Don’t mislead youths on reproductive health
San Francisco takes many measures to educate and inform its young people about our reproductive health. This is why it was so surprising to see inaccurate and misleading public-health information displayed on banners hung on city lamp posts on Market Street claiming that “Abortion hurts women” as part of the Walk for Life event in The City last weekend. The message and of these banners seem to counteract our city’s policies, practices, and values.
The attack on safe and legal abortions poses a risk to all women, especially young women. San Francisco has relatively low adolescent birth rates compared to the state average. However, records from the Department of Public Health show major disparities in which communities are affected by adolescent pregnancy. Overall, 32.3 percent of the 202 adolescent births in San Francisco in 2012 occurred in areas of concentrated poverty.
In San Francisco, black and Latino youths are at increased risk of poor sexual health outcomes compared to youth of white or Asian ethnicities. Nationally, almost 615,000 U.S. women age 15-19 become pregnant each year. Many young females will decide to become a parent and deserve our support. Others will decide to terminate their pregnancies and also deserve our support. Abortions, since their legalization in 1973, are considered very safe medical procedures.
Young people need access to accurate information and to education about reproductive health, including our right to a safe, legal abortion. Compared to adults, youth may be less knowledgeable about this issue, and may be especially vulnerable to the statements displayed on Market Street.
Since the decision about how to respond to an unplanned pregnancy is one of the most difficult a young woman may ever face, it is wrong to try to manipulate young women’s decision-making with false and shaming statements that may lead young women and girls to consider taking unsafe and uninformed actions.
Contrary to the belief that Market Street is mostly a traffic, business and tourist thoroughfare, many families with children and teens live in the Tenderloin and South of Market. Such false public-health statements are affecting women in The City’s lowest-income neighborhoods, which have the highest rates of low-weight birth, and emergency room visits for pregnancy.
We are proud that San Francisco and California have strong policies to assure women’s reproductive-health rights. The City previously celebrated reproductive rights by
commemorating the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The mayor and members of the Board of Supervisors introduced legislation last year ensuring females have the ability to access reproductive-health facilities without harassment, and the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution opposing these same banners last year. Still, the placement of the banners on lamp posts gives the unfortunate impression of public endorsement of the messages.
San Francisco Unified School District high school students complete a semester-long health class as one of the district’s graduation requirements, and high schools have Wellness Centers where students can learn about health services. Such youth-friendly channels offer significant resources to educate young people regarding scientifically verifiable information, but this does not mean all youth have access to the information and services they need to make informed decisions.
As high school students, transitional-age youth, and individual members of the Youth Commission and the Citywide Transitional Age Youth Advisory Board, we are most concerned with keeping San Francisco youths accurately informed about our health, so that youth can make the most informed decisions. That includes understanding our right to an abortion, which only hurts women and girls when not legally available.
We young people trust that our city will provide for our needs, education, development, and rights. We believe we have a right to see accurate information about public health in public space.
Dedicating the banner proceeds to the Department of Public Health for a campaign advancing accurate and scientifically-verifiable education about reproductive health in accordance with the resolution passed by the Board of Supervisors in 2014 is one important step.
Further, we encourage all young San Franciscans to learn about their health and their rights as a critical step toward overcoming the erroneous messages about abortion currently displayed on Market Street.
Emily Guo is a student at Mission High School, E’mani Davis is a student at University High School, David Zheng is a student at Lincoln High School and Luisa Sicairos is a member of the Citywide Transitional Age Youth Advisory Board. Guo, Davis and Zheng are members of the Youth Commission, a chartered body of 17 young San Franciscans appointed by and charged with advising the mayor and Board of Supervisors on the unmet needs of youth in The City.