On Tuesday, November 12, I attended the URI Honors Colloquium for a presentation on women’s health care, unintended pregnancy, and the availability of contraceptives and sex education in Rhode Island, given by First Lady Stephanie Chafee. I was inclined to attend this event for our topic of feminism not only because she has she achieved a position of power from being the Co-Founder and President Emerita of the Rhode Island Free Clinic, being one of the first nurses in RI with a focus on HIV/AIDS patients, and being an advocate for health care among the less financially fortunate population in our state, she was going to talk about women’s health, which I found to be a big issue in the recent election and a very serious women’s social justice issue.
The woman that introduced her made some comment about how she was always disappointed that Stephanie Chafee didn’t graduate for nursing form URI. This bugged somewhat because I’m about to finish my prerequisites and start the nursing program at RIC this spring, and I don’t really understand how graduating with a nursing degree would be disappointing from any school! I got so distracted by that comment thought that I didn’t hear her explanation for why she was disappointed, so I guess I missed the point anyways.
First Lady Chafee started by saying that she was proud of herself for having her husband, Governor Lincoln Chafee, in the audience while she was giving a lecture, rather than the much more common and opposite situation. I thought that was awesome since what we’ve learned in class about patriarchy and the system of male power and privilege would very much go against the night’s circumstances. The lecture given by the First Lady was startling. The statistics that she gave about unintended and unintended teen pregnancies in RI were beyond what I had imagined. She first defined a key term that she used often that night, unintended pregnancy, as being a pregnancy that is either mistimed (where the woman did not want to get pregnant then, but would want to someday) or unwanted (where the woman did not ever plan to become pregnant in her lifetime). She said that while women in instances of mistimed pregnancies are more likely to be better mothers that are healthy and aware of the health of their child, that both mistimed and unwanted pregnancies are more likely to have problematic outcomes than a planned pregnancy, such as negative physical and mental effects on the child as well as premature births.
Here are some of the statistics the First Lady gave about unintended pregnancy in 2011 in Rhode Island:
- · 14% of middle school students had already had an intimate experience, and 70% of those had never had any HIV/AIDS education.
- · 10% of high school students were involved with more than 4 people
- · 20% of high school students were drinking or using illicit drugs the last time they had a sexual experience, and 8.2% of those were victims of domestic or sexual violence
- · 75% of RI women who became pregnant before they were 20 years old did not want to or plan to.
- · Once a teen has had an unintended pregnancy they are much more likely to have another before they turn 20 years old.
- Most of those women are in low financial standing.
- Most of those women have adolescent mothers themselves.
- · 77.8% of all births in Providence are at-risk births (compared to 24% in Barrington)
She emphasized the importance of effective sex education in schools because it has been greatly shown that there is a direct inverse correlation between sex education and unintended pregnancy, meaning that the more educated a person is on sex and contraception, the less likely they are to have an unintended pregnancy, and vice verse. It has also been proven that there is a direct correlation between abstinence-only sex education programs and unintended pregnancy, proving them to be entirely ineffective. She said that to her, sexual education should be just as important in school as getting good grades and doing well on standardized tests, which I agree with wholeheartedly. High school pregnancy is the leading cause of dropping out of high school in Rhode Island, which leads me to feel that grade schools should focus more on sex education and providing contraception in schools because if their lack of sex education is effecting their ability to protect themselves, lead healthy lives and make informed decisions outside of school, then getting good grades is much more difficult, sometimes impossible. The statistics Stephanie Chafee presented also show that in areas of Rhode Island where there is greater financial distress, the rate of unintended pregnancy is much higher, and because of this she feels that there needs to be free birth control in Rhode Island, especially in urban areas where they are at a disproportionate disadvantage.
Most cases of unintended pregnancy are due to incorrect of inconsistent use of contraceptives, which only strengthens my opinion on sex education in schools. I also feel there should be greater access to a safe abortion when the woman feels it is necessary in a situation of both unintended pregnancy and a pregnancy that affects the woman’s chance of survival. Although I had come in to the lecture already agreeing with the idea that women should have the freedom to decide when they’re ready to have children, the First Lady’s presentation only solidified that point further.