Archive for August, 2011

Report confirms abstinence-only & anti-Planned-Parenthood arguments are illogical

August 24, 2011

This review from the Guttmacher Institute about unintended pregnancy rates in the U.S. has some really interesting, telling statistics. Not only is there basic info about unintended pregnancy rates per capita, but it also includes numbers — by state — on percentages of total pregnancies that are unintended, how much it costs the state, how many were publicly funded, and how much the rate would increase in the absence of clinic services, a la family-planning clinics like Planned Parenthood.

These statistics tell important narratives in the face of attacks on reproductive rights and comprehensive sex education. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican presidential candidate, recently was asked by a reporter why he advocated abstinence-only education when it obviously isn’t working, as Texas has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country. Perry’s response was basically, “Nuh-uh!” But taking a look at these statistics, it’s very clear that Texas has a problem with unintended pregnancies generally.

Texas has the second-highest number of unintended pregnancies in the country, which is no surprise given its large population. Per capita, its rate is 11th highest, overshadowed by states like Mississippi, California, Delaware, Nevada, and also the District of Columbia. Texas, however, is the second-highest spender on public funds when it comes to births from unintended pregnancies. It’s obvious that abstinence-only education is not only inefficient, but that the unintended pregnancies resulting from lack of education about or access to contraception really takes a toll on the budget.

The report says that women who use contraception consistently account for 5 percent of unintended pregnancies. So if 95 percent of unintended pregnancies are from women not using contraception consistently or at all, doesn’t it make sense to focus on education and access to contraception? Yep. Wouldn’t it be more fiscally conservative to educate people about contraception so that they can better prevent these unintended pregnancies, thereby also saving the government money? Yep.

That’s where these ideas of being fiscally conservative smash into moral ideology — which is more important, legislating your personal religious beliefs or adopting a curriculum that best guarantees lowering these rates and consequently the funds spent on them? I’d say the latter.

Another statistic that really struck me was how much the number of unintended pregnancies would increase without family-planning clinics. States where legislators have succeeded in denying state funding for Planned Parenthood — Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina, Texas, and Wisconsin — could see their rates of unintended pregnancy increase by 50, 38, 34, 32, and 55 percent, respectively. And these attempts to defund are attempts to shut down these clinics because 3 percent of what they do is abortions. Can you really look at these numbers, see how dramatically rates of unintended pregnancy would increase without these clinics, and tell me that closing them is a great idea?

The Guttmacher report is only five pages long, and it’s definitely worth reading even if just for the charts and graphs. If you think there are a lot of unintended pregnancies now, just think how that number will skyrocket without clinics like Planned Parenthood. Vermont’s rate would jump 116 percent. Alaska’s would swell by 96 percent. If legislators want to “make a point” by defunding family-planning clinics, these numbers show they’ll definitely make a point — that they are incompetent.

Teen Mom: Only women wear engagement rings

August 22, 2011

On this week’s episode of Teen Mom,  Catelynn and Tyler discussed how things would be different for them now that Tyler has officially graduated high school and will start college classes while Catelynn continues to finish her high school classes. One of Catelynn’s concerns was the ladies who Tyler might meet at college, and she half-joked but half-seriously suggested that he wear an engagement ring to let them know he was taken. His response? He doesn’t have to wear an engagement ring, but Catelynn does because she’s a woman.

Engagements and weddings are littered with patriarchal undertones, and Catelynn was right to question why Tyler didn’t wear an engagement ring. Catelynn wears a ring around her finger 24/7 that lets any passerby know that someone else has staked his claim, yet Tyler isn’t expected to — and doesn’t see a purpose — in doing the same for Catelynn. She is merely asking for equality, but Tyler shuts her down with the old standby of “that’s just tradition.”

Just because something is tradition, though, doesn’t mean it’s logical or the best way to do something. Is the best way to show a mutual commitment to each other that only the woman wears an engagement ring? Not really, especially when the woman is vocal about not wanting to be the only one in the relationship doing so. But Tyler completely disregarded her arguments anyway, unwilling to entertain them because it’s easier to keep with tradition than break the mold.

And it might be easier to keep with tradition than field questions about why he’s wearing an engagement ring even though he’s a dude, but they plan on getting married — shouldn’t he be most concerned with his partner’s feelings as opposed to society’s feelings? It’s times like these when we really need to think critically about our actions. When your response to a question is, “Because that’s just how it’s done,” then you need to step back and ponder, “But why is it always done this way? Is that motivation something I believe in?”

Though Catelynn’s motivation — so that girls will know you’re engaged and won’t talk to you — doesn’t exactly exemplify trustworthiness, the bigger problem in this argument was that Tyler so quickly aimed to end it with, “You’re a woman, so deal with the inequality.” It’s times like these that couples could and should think critically about a solution or compromise that satisfies them both, rather than rely on a tradition that will leave someone — likely the woman if we’re talking heterosexual relationships — feeling unheard and unfulfilled.

What do shoes, Frappuccino and birth control have in common?

August 5, 2011

That unlike many women in this country, Fox News commentator Dana Perino can afford all three, or at least that’s what I infer from this tidbit:

Now, I might be for [free birth control], if I didn’t see a lot of people out there able to buy a new pair of shoes. I mean, we have to be able to make some choices here … How are we going to define poor? Because who is not in that category now who can’t get free birth control anyway? … If you can afford a $5 Frappuccino at Starbucks, look, you can pay your $5 co-pay.

Where oh where to begin? I guess I’ll just make a list:

  1. Sometimes people need new shoes? Is Dana Perino’s definition of poor that you need to be walking around barefoot and unable to afford a pair of shoes, and then she’ll consider that you need free birth control? People just don’t look poor enough to her yet. Maybe she means that she sees a lot of people buying shoes, and knows they are buying Louboutins instead of a Nuva Ring? Maybe the “lot of people” you see buying shoes aren’t the same ones who can’t afford birth control. Just a thought.
  2. We do have to be able to make some choices! Like the choice not to get pregnant! But it’s unfortunate when things like income don’t cover or just barely cover bills, basic necessities, etc. That often takes away women’s financial ability to afford birth control, which takes away her choice to prevent unplanned pregnancies. I know, I know, maybe she just shouldn’t have sex. Shouldn’t a woman have the choice to engage in intercourse though? How about with her husband? I guess this point is moot if you think sex is only for procreation, as you probably wouldn’t want women to have the choice to have sex for pleasure at all.
  3. You know, free birth control currently doesn’t just fall from the sky. When you try to take away government funding for family-planning clinics like Planned Parenthood or shut down family-planning clinics by re-regulating them as hospitals, you are attacking the very institutions that give out that free birth control. So yeah, thanks for suggesting women already have places to go for free birth control while simultaneously trying to shut those places down. That makes a lot of sense.
  4. You know, this “you aren’t poor unless you can’t afford to put shoes on your feet” definition for low-income is a bit ridiculous. There are plenty of people who live paycheck-to-paycheck, and birth control isn’t “free” for them using a sliding scale like Planned Parenthood does when deciding how much patients will owe for birth control. There are a lot of women who fall into this “I make too much money to qualify for free birth control,” but “I don’t make enough money to afford expensive co-pays” category.

    Also, being poor doesn’t mean that free birth control magically appears on your doorstep. Being eligible to “get” it and actually having the means to “get” it are different. You have to travel to get it. Sometimes, you have to travel really far to get it, because there are only one or two places in your entire state where you can get free birth control. That takes time, a mode of transportation, and the money to use that transportation. I guess you could walk a few hundred miles to get there, just don’t let Dana catch you buying new shoes for the journey.

  5. Does everyone really think birth control only costs $5? Some generic, really popular forms do, but not all birth controls are made alike. Women react differently to different kinds, health histories would steer your doctor away from prescribing you certain kinds, and they can cost $50 or more per co-pay. That’s a lot of foregone Frappuccinos.

    Not all forms are taken orally, either. Nuva Rings and IUDs are very effective, but Nuva Rings cost $50 or more each month, and an IUD is an upfront cost of $175 to $500. Now if I just stop drinking my daily frappuccino before work, I can afford an IUD in … five months. Oh, that’s assuming I have enough money to enjoy an expensive drink at Starbucks everyday, but really, who doesn’t?

And she wasn’t the only one with something to say about birth control. Also on the panel was Andrea Tantaros:

Most poor people can [afford birth control], it’s already provided. Why should taxpayers have to fund breast pumps, birth control — look, women should be responsible for their own ovaries. That is the bottom line.

I think we already covered that not everyone has access to and/or should be taking the free or relatively cheap kinds of birth control. Taxpayers should fund it because birth control for all women serves a greater community purpose. Fewer unplanned pregnancies, less strain on government assistance, less people needing to forego an education to take care of a child — all good things.

But I’m so glad to see Andrea talking about women being responsible for their own ovaries! Women should be responsible for their own ovaries, in fact, their entire uterus and all those other reproductive organs, too. Which is why they want to take birth control, but there are financial barriers that make it difficult to do consistently or at all. So this removal of co-pay only facilitates responsibility!

All this talk about women having choices and how their ovaries are their own responsibility makes for great pro-choice arguments! Thanks for the talking points, ladies!

(Thanks to Ms. for originally blogging about this.) 

 

 

College-aged veterans 6 times more likely to attempt suicide

August 4, 2011

Today USA Today reported that college-aged veterans are six times more likely to attempt suicide than other college students, and are at an even higher suicide risk than veterans who go to the Veterans Affairs (VA) office for help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms.

As the article notes, research on veterans and PTSD is usually done on veterans in general, but not focused on young, college-aged people specifically. Though the results of this research are jolting, they aren’t necessarily surprising. Studies show that the brain doesn’t fully mature until a person reaches their mid-20s, and that adolescent brains have more difficulty dealing with stress than adults whose brains have fully matured. Coping with trauma is that much more difficult for a younger veteran.

And it’s unclear whether colleges have the health services needed to help treat PTSD symptoms. Some colleges have VA offices, and the VA has a program called “VetSuccess” to help veterans transition back into civilian life, complete with an on-campus arm, but this program is only at eight campuses nationwide. Student health services alone can’t be relied on — at my alma mater, the counseling services available carried a two- or three-week wait time and were only free for the first few visits.

Aside from a lack of treatment options, trying to assimilate back to civilian life at college — possibly away from your support system — heightens the feelings of isolation that already come with PTSD. Luckily, there are chapters of Student Veterans of America (SVA) across the country, which help fight that feeling of isolation and the stress of adapting to a new environment by connecting student veterans on campus and providing other college- and career-related resources.

Some cities do have specialized programs for young veterans, such asVetSTRONG in San Francisco, and in 2008 the Department of Labor started the “American’s Heroes at Work” project to help veterans with traumatic brain injury and/or PTSD find jobs after returning to civilian life. More attention is being paid to young veterans, especially as they are re-deployed for multiple tours of duty, but a lot of these organizations are still in their infancy. This means the programs themselves might be smaller and less accessible to some vets, or that young vets might not be aware they exist.

So while there has been progress recently (likely in response to research that said one in five veterans returning from duty in Iraq and Afghanistan have symptoms of PTSD), many college campuses still simply don’t have the proper tools to deal with combat-related PTSD. The authors of the study suggest colleges increase screening for PTSD if students have been in the military, possibly catching signs of suicidal tendencies or behavior early on. That, along with a widespread and dedicated attempt to raise awareness about student veteran support groups and access to treatment resources, will be key to lowering this high rate of attempted suicide among college-aged veterans.

Do you think you might have PTSD symptoms, or know someone who does? Click here and read about the symptoms of PTSD.

Do you think someone you know is suicidal? Click here and read about suicide prevention, and pay special attention to signs of suicidal behavior that are specific to veterans. Click here for more information and resources about suicide prevention.

The VA has a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline that you can call if you are either contemplating suicide or a family member or friend might be contemplating suicide: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Click here to start your own chapter or affiliate a current student veteran organization with SVA. 

Find your local VA center by clicking here.

RHONY reunion: Success, alcoholism not mutually exclusive

August 3, 2011

On the second part of the Real Housewives of New York reunion special last night, there was a lot of bickering and interrupting and eye-rolling. But what really stuck out was the discussion about whether Ramona is an alcoholic, and Ramona’s subsequent declaration that she couldn’t be so successful if she had a problem with alcohol.

This is when the term “functioning alcoholic” was thrown around, with the blond side of the couch saying the term was an oxymoron and that you can’t be successful and be addicted to alcohol. Now I’m not saying Ramona is an alcoholic — I can’t simply as a viewer of an edited TV show diagnose her. But I can take issue with her comments that (1) wine isn’t alcohol and (2) if she were an alcoholic, she wouldn’t be able to manage a successful empire.

Firstly, wine is alcohol. It might be classier than beer or liquor in social circles, and it might be good for your health depending on the medical studies you read. But it still is a type of alcohol, still can cause liver disease like any other type of alcohol, and still can breed and feed an alcohol addiction.

And “functioning alcoholics” are common, as about half of all alcoholics are high-functioning. They have college degrees, good jobs, families, and to the outside world seem very successful. It’s really dangerous to adopt and publicize the notion that alcoholism and success are mutually exclusive, because it misleads an audience that might use that explanation to shrug off their own alcoholism or the alcoholism of a friend or family member.

Sarah Allen Benton, author of the book Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic, told The New York Times that this enabled her own alcoholism:

Having outside accomplishments led me and others to excuse my drinking and avoid categorizing me as an alcoholic. My success was the mask that disguised the underlying demon and fed my denial.

We have a lot of mental profiles for what we think specific people look like — we think a drug addict looks like X, a terrorist looks like Y, an alcoholic looks like Z. We probably wouldn’t look at President George W. Bush, Winston Churchill, Stephen King, or Mary Tyler Moore and think “alcoholic,” because we think addiction is obvious and conspicuous. But these people and many other prominent faces, as well as countless other successful people, have been addicted to alcohol privately while enjoying success publicly.

High-functioning alcoholics often implant themselves in scenes where there are a lot of other people drinking so they blend into the crowd, and their success sinks them into a deeper denial than a non-high-functioning alcoholic because they don’t see a problem — if the money and opportunity keep rolling in, why mess with the formula? Regardless, they still constantly think about drinking, have trouble with controlling how much they drink, and use alcohol as a reward for their successes.

Also, alcoholism can be a deadly disease, and I don’t appreciate the housewives who scoffed at the idea that successful people could be alcoholics. It wasn’t just that some of them were trying to defend Ramona because she was their friend and being attacked by several people for her penchant for pinot gregio — it was that there was an air of superiority in how they quickly labeled as absurd the idea that a successful person would fall victim to alcohol abuse. Newsflash: alcoholism isn’t just for the plebeians.

Click here for information about alcoholism, support groups, and professional treatment.