To the producers and directors of MTV's 16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom:
Congratulations on the success of your shows. I'm a true fan and considering each is consistently one of MTV's top-rated, it appears many, many other Americans are too. You've accomplished a lot with the shows. Exposed the drama, and sometimes the tragedy, teen parenthood often is.
You've also pioneered awareness of open adoption. Season 1 favorites, Catelynn and Tyler, who placed their baby for adoption have done something rarely, if ever, done: Revealing to the public what it's like being birth parents in a fully open adoption, one in which the child knows his or her birth parents, and has ongoing contact with them. (The evidence shows this is the healthiest way to proceed for everyone involved, particularly for adoptees and the birth parents, and has become the standard among the best adoptions agencies.) Catelynn and Tyler have proven to be the unofficial and charming spokespersons for this modern form of adoption.
16 & Pregnant and Teen Mom have made powerful contributions to the awareness of unintended pregnancies, teen parenthood and adoption and you and your team deserves much praise and respect for that.
Given this leadership, as well as MTV's long history of producing hofnest, informative journalism on sexual health matters, you must take the next step, and help break down barriers formed by misinformation, fear, and stigma. There's another voice you must add to 16 & Pregnant: That of the 16 year-old girl who is pregnant and chooses to have an abortion.
It is not clear why these teen's perspectives were never included in the program to begin with. Of the approximately 250,000 teenage girls ages who unintentionally become pregnant in the United States each year, 27 percent of the pregnancies end in abortion.
By not including this population, your silent yet unmistakable message is that abortion is not a choice, or shouldn't be. It's invisible, as are the women and girls who choose it. By excluding abortion from the choices your subjects can make, you are contributing to the stigma surrounding abortion and making, perhaps unintentionally, a political and ideological statement.
We, as a culture, need to hear from all women making these sometimes difficult decisions. This perspective is needed particularly now when access to abortion is shrinking, stigma about abortion is growing, unintended pregnancy among teens continues at a staggering rate, and the social safety net is fraying.
You are the perfect organization to tell her story to a national audience, to tell it empathetically and comprehensively. How did she get to this point and how does she feel about it? Sad, guilty, guilty for not feeling guilty, responsible, relieved, empowered? How will she manage it? She sometimes has the right to decide on an abortion on her own, but in 37 states her parent or parents must be informed or even required to consent. How will she handle this? Sometimes girls can sidestep parental consent by going to court, which is particularly important in the case of child abuse. Many may have problems raising the funds to afford the abortion or even getting transportation to a doctor (nearly 90 percent of all counties in the U.S. don't have an abortion provider -- a logistical challenge for those without a driver's license.) Your cameras can accompany her as she runs the gauntlet of protestors outside a clinic, those with their own agenda for the young woman. If it's not possible to find a girl willing to televise her decision, a sign of the severity of stigma around abortion, you can animate her story using the animation that is already a part of 16 & Pregnant.
This is a compelling story, full of drama, heart warming and heart breaking. Once you do this, 16 & Pregnant will be truly representative of all American girls in this circumstance, and journalistically, more significant. It will be good for America, and good TV.
To help you on your way, I've set up an email address for women who are planning to get an abortion and are interested in educating the public discourse, through 16 & Pregnant, about what that choice is like. Here's the address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, I've started a petition for those who support MTV making the decision to include girls who choose abortion in the show.
Thank you for your consideration and for bringing such a powerful medium to illuminate critical issues in your viewers' lives. Sincerely, Cristina Page
Cristina Page is author of "How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America" and also leads the Adoption Access Network, a national network of adoption advocates who promote pro-birthparent policies and best practice standards in adoption.