THE BLOG

Why Planned Parenthood Matters for American Schools

04/11/2011 12:16 am ET | Updated Jun 10, 2011

On any given day, there are between one and three mothers in my classroom. This is not the result of some behavioral intervention plan, nor is this part of a special initiative to better connect parents to the school community. Those young women, doe-eyed and green, are my students.

Juggling high school and parenthood is a formidable endeavor. When a teenager becomes a mom, school is unfortunately relegated to a matter of secondary importance. Ready or not, child-rearing is their new job and in the early years, about the only thing they can manage. At a time when the application and necessity of a high school diploma has never been more tangible, the academic performance of these students begins to founder. Even with our school's daycare program, my girls still miss considerable time in the classroom and fall despairingly behind in their work.

But that's the thing about parenting -- the life of a child is prioritized above all else and no exception is given to parents who themselves are barely more than kids.

Often, the girl (and her family) will bear the brunt of pregnancy and child-raising. Rarely is a father in the picture and when one is, he's certainly not the party absent from school for doctor's appointments, sick infants, or outright exhaustion. In these situations, the lives of young men are indisputably less disrupted.

And GOP wanted to cut funding for Planned Parenthood?

Let's face it -- teenagers are not necessarily inclined to adopt the moral compass, foresight, and values of adults. More specifically, they're unlikely to mimic the ideals of the Republican Party. Teenagers are inquisitive. Some will experiment, others won't. Does this make them bad people? Absolutely not -- they're kids. Big kids with even bigger curiosities.

So do we punish them by passing legislation that would axe an institution providing critical support and care in this arena? Or do we approach this issue with a realistic understanding and recognize that education and access to health services is a smarter way of promoting a healthy country and healthy adolescents.

Late Friday evening, lawmakers reached a budget deal that did not, surprisingly, bludgeon Planned Parenthood. Though this was momentary victory for the reproductive rights of women; federal funding for this organization is expected to remain a tumultuous and polemic issue. With far too many Americans misconceiving Planned Parenthood as both a depository for indiscriminate abortions and an enabler of premature sex, it is difficult to maintain a positive outlook for the future.

For the record, it's neither of those things.

Planned Parenthood provides testing services, breast exams, birth control, and pap smears, all at a reasonable cost. For women without affordable access to health care, these services are invaluable and sometimes life-saving. Just as importantly, Planned Parenthood offers a safe and reputable space for otherwise intimidated teenage girls to acquire birth control, get tested for STIs/HIV, or receive information pertaining to reproductive health. Naysayers may balk at the dissemination of birth control but if a teenager is thinking about experimenting with sex, then they're likely going to try it. Our best bet is to provide the tools to help them make safe decisions.

Peruse around the Planned Parenthood website and you'll find information for teens, parents, and educators. Click on the "Info for Teens" link and you are led to a page that says nothing of abortion. Your portal options are "Get Yourself Tested," "Am I Ready for Sex?" and "The Check" (a tab that, once again, focuses on STI/HIV prevention). Promoting these check-ups is especially crucial for adolescents who often erroneously perceive themselves as invincible or unconditionally immune to such viruses and diseases.

Take the neighborhood my school is located in as an example. According to a report from the New York City Department of Health, this area of Brooklyn has an HIV diagnosis rate that is 30 percent higher than that of NYC overall. The rate of individuals living with HIV/AIDS is also higher than all of NYC by 25 percent. This statistic, accounting for individuals age 13 or older, has implications for the children sitting in our classrooms. Until these numbers are lower everywhere, we need this institution and others like it.

The ideological battle over federal funding for Planned Parenthood is not easily reconcilable and will continue to be a contentious issue in Congress. Loaded and pejorative, abortion seems to exist as the ultimate trump card. But as much as Planned Parenthood is pro-choice, it is also pro-woman. It is time we recognize this and get behind what the organization is intending to do -- improve sexual and reproductive health for females across America. In that way, it is very much on the side of life.