Tuesday, September 29, 2020

GUEST BLOGGER SERIES:Silvia Henriquez "Latinas and Teen Pregnancy"

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Latinas and all women have the human right to full information, resources, and services to make their healthiest decisions about relationships, sex, pregnancy and parenting.Focusing on teen pregnancy prevention as the main and only strategy to advancing adolescent sexual and reproductive health is not an adequate framework for doing so because so many of those needs fall outside of the scope of pregnancy prevention.

Much of the work on prevention only misses the mark for many Latinos, and more investment is needed to identify better messages and programs.  Unfortunately, many of the common solutions and programs that attempt to address teen pregnancy do not address systemic and socio-political issues that may also lead to high rates of pregnancy among U.S-based Latinas teens. It is true that more Latino teens start their families earlier than non-Hispanic white teens. However, data also indicates that the birthrate among 15-to-19-year-olds across all ethnic groups rose 1.4% from 2006 to 2007, and more births were also reported among women in their 20s, 30s and 40s and older unmarried women. By sounding the alarm on teen pregnancy we fail to focus on pro-active positive messages, programs and policies that can lead to healthy pregnancies, stronger families and that highlight all the positive contributions that young Latinas make to this society.

We can all agree that we want teens to delay parenthood. However, first we have to address the barriers young Latinas face when seeking reproductive health care. Young Latinas who have recently arrived to the U.S may feel that they can not seek services for fear of deportation. Their family members or parents may be in detention centers or back in their country of origin so their immediate support system is gone.   Some young women think that they are not allowed to attend college because of their or their parents’ immigration status or they simply have no way of affording a college education. Finally, regardless of immigrations status, most young people to not have access to comprehensive reproductive health care information that is accurate and free of bias.

Most schools and communities do not have the tools to properly talk to young people about their sexual health. This combined, with low rate of health insurance coverage and few reproductive health services that consider adolescents’ needs and experiences, means that Latina teens are growing up without all the resources, support, and information they need to make their own decisions. A young person needs confidential services, she needs to know all her options—continuing with her pregnancy, adoption and abortion. We have to drop our assumptions that Latinas would not get an abortion and ensure that programs and services talk about this option without bias or stigma.

Most studies focusing on Latina teen pregnancy call for culturally competent education and prevention programs, and we couldn’t agree more. One-size-fits-all approaches to sexuality education have consistently failed to resonate with Latinas’ cultural values. Motherhood at any stage of life is a value embraced by many Latinos. Instead of focusing on the importance of planning and preparing for the real-life expectations, joys and challenges of motherhood, most current prevention efforts inundate Latino teens with fear-inflicting messages that portray childbearing as a negative life event, one that kills dreams and opportunities. Instead we need to take this opportunity to call for greater economic support, health care access and education for all women, so that those wishing to be mothers can raise healthy and happy children. Teen pregnancy should not be portrayed as the greatest risk that teens may face in their reproductive lives.

The same lack of access to medical care, appropriate information and prevention programs that leave Latino teens without the tools to plan for pregnancy also generates other important issues, including sexually transmitted infections, which must be addressed with equal urgency in the national conversation led by the media, as well through appropriate legislation. Their sexuality is shaped by a multiple of socioeconomic realities and unique cultural aspects. Our legislators are in the process of over hauling our health care system. Let us use this political moment to open up dialogues and debunk myths about sex and sexuality in the Latino community. Young people need the facts, need to know how to prevent a pregnancy but also must have the proper support systems to make decisions about their health care. We should not marginalize young women who choose to seek an abortion while at the same time we have to support young mothers to finish school and raise happy healthy families.

Real conversations with our communities, families and friends is one step towards eliminating the stigma around teen pregnancy. But we should also hold our elected and appointed officials accountable. Our schools need comprehensive sex education and programs that support young mothers our communities need family planning and abortion clinics that are cultural competent and affordable and  our families need to trust young people and their decision-making ability.

Latinovations would like to thank Silvia for her contribution. Silvia Henriquez is the Executive Director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health (NLIRH).  Silvia has expanded the staff from two to eight persons, and positioned NLIRH as a leading organization working to ensure reproductive health and justice for Latinas, their families and their communities.  With Silvia’s direction, NLIRH has developed a national policy agenda, co-founded the first coalition to address the reproductive health care needs of immigrant women and their families, and implemented a successful organizing and leadership development training program. Through her work at NLIRH, Silvia has published articles in “Social Policy, Organizing for Social and Economic Justice and Democratic Participation” and “Conscience, The Newsjournal of Catholic Opinion.”  She has also been on a guest on NPR’s Brian Lehrer show and numerous Spanish-language radio and TV programs.  Prior to Silvia’s leadership at NLIRH, she worked with the Feminist Majority Foundation, the National Abortion Federation and the Latino Issues Forum, where in 2003, she co-wrote, “Our Health, Our Rights: Reproductive Justice for Latinas in California.”