By Tess Joseph
We at the Woodhull Freedom Foundation believe that rather than stigmatize young parents, we must support them. As members of the sexual freedom movement, we are committed to working toward a world where people of all ages have access to sex education, contraception, quality healthcare, childcare, and more. We know that all parents need resources, and teen parents often need more than most. We also know that while many parents face judgment, from how they raise their children to the structure of their families, teen parents face judgment simply for being parents.
There’s a notion that we should strive for fewer teen parents, which implies that their existence is undesirable. Interpretations of teen pregnancy rates tend to stick to that narrative: the steady decline in teen pregnancy rates, reported by the Guttmacher Institute, is celebrated. The statistics are heralded as quantitative proof that an increase in access to comprehensive sex education and reproductive healthcare, including contraceptives, might lead to a decrease in the number of teen pregnancies.
I don’t disagree with this analysis; it is, after all, likely that such access leads to fewer teen pregnancies. We can certainly appreciate the fact that comprehensive sex education and reproductive healthcare can have profound effects on the lives of young people, particularly those who don’t want children yet (if ever). However, as Caroline Reilly notes, we need to be very careful about assuming that “high teen pregnancy rates indicate a dysfunctional society, and lower ones must mean we’re doing something right.” In so doing, we would view teen pregnancy and parenting as things to avoid, prevent, and possibly denounce. This logic is harmful to young people.
Reilly writes that “[m]uch of the discourse surrounding pregnancy prevention and abortion access for young people comes at the cost of stigmatizing teen parents.” Discussions about the need for prevention “quickly devolve from it’s their choice to we don’t want teens to become parents!” No matter how good the intention, eroding young peoples’ agency is problematic.
I understand why this prevention model exists. Carrying a pregnancy to term, and then potentially raising that baby, is by nature a life-altering decision. But the reality is that some young people, by desire or their circumstances, become pregnant and parent. They, like all parents, deserve our support, not stigma.
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