United States: Bush's birth control a disaster

August 2, 2009

Right-wing, religiously driven sex education policies introduced by the administration of president George Bush Jnr have had disastrous results for the sexual and reproductive health of US youth, a July 17 report by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Instead of medically accurate, comprehensive sex education, Bush's campaign to "just say no" to sex before marriage and his attacks on access to abortion and birth control have caused an increase in sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancies over 2002-2007.

This reverses the trend of declining rates over the past 20 years. The reversal is greater in southern US states, where the religious abstinence campaign is more prevalent.

The birth control findings are stark. About one-third of youth had not received instruction on methods of birth control before the age of 18.

Birth rates among young women 15 years and older had been in decline since 1991, but rose sharply in more than half of US states since 2005.

In 2004, there were about 745,000 pregnancies among females younger than 20. This included an estimated 16,000 pregnancies among girls aged 10 to 14.

The analysis revealed racial and ethnic disparities. Hispanic women aged between 15 and 19 have higher birth rates (132.8 births per 1000 females) than African Americans (128 per 1000) and whites (45.2 per 1000). Poverty, disadvantage and class also affect birth rates.

But even more devastating is the lack of access to abortion, contraceptive alternatives and information. Access to emergency contraception such as RU 486 is blocked in the US. About 87% of US counties have no abortion providers due to often criminal attacks, including arson and murder, by extreme right wing groups such as Operation Rescue.

The rise in sexually transmitted diseases is equally damning. Syphilis cases among young people aged 15 to 24 have increased for males and females. In 2006, about one million young people aged 10 to 24 were reported to have chlamydia, gonorrhoea or syphilis.

The number of female teenagers with syphilis rose by nearly half and the two decade decline in gonorrhoea infection is being reversed.

Nearly a quarter of females aged 15 to 19, and 45% of females aged 20 to 24 had a human papilloma virus (HPV) infection during 2003-2004.

AIDS cases and the spread of HIV infection are also increasing. From 1997 to 2006, rates of AIDS cases among males aged 15 to 24 rose. In 2006, most new diagnoses of HIV infection among young people occurred among males and those aged 20 to 24.

At the same time, sexual violence statistics show more setbacks for young women. From 2004 to 2006, about 100,000 females aged 10 to 24 visited a hospital emergency department for non-fatal sexual assault, including 30,000 females aged 10 to 14.

This report by the US major public health body demonstrates clearly the dangers of treating health issues on the basis of religious fundamentalism. The women's movement fought against the idea of ignorance as purity and "just say no" as the basis of choice.

Such views, and the moral stereotyping that accompanied them, polarised women into good and bad — the defenders of morality ("God's Police") and the fallen women ("Damned Whores"). The labels haven't changed much today. The Moral Majority, the Right to Life, American Values, Operation Rescue are all right-wing fundamentalist minority groups seeking to impose their narrow moral beliefs on society.

The right of young people, particularly women, to informed choice about their health, sexual and reproductive rights is clearly under attack. The trend of reversals revealed in data for such a short period of time clearly demonstrates the dangers and need for an immediate response.

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