Calling for a shift in discourse on young motherhood

Veronica Bayetti Flores, our Senior Policy Analyst, published this great article about young motherhood in the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Newsletter.
As a part of the reproductive justice community, we share a set of values that we believe will allow all persons to live their lives freely and in good health; we value sexual freedom, integrity of the body and personal autonomy, and we reject any system of reproductive coercion. In fact, a key aspect of reproductive justice is advocating for all persons to be able to make the reproductive decisions that they feel are best for them, and to eliminate all the systems that create barriers to these decisions being made freely. Because we share these justice values, we believe it is important to change the discourse surrounding young motherhood and the policies meant to address the issues young mothers face.

More specifically, the current discourse surrounding young motherhood is both stigmatizing and insensitive, and presents young motherhood as a problem in itself as opposed to the real problems that often surround it, such as poverty and lack of access. Though many young women who become young mothers do not plan their pregnancies, many other young mothers do plan their pregnancies, and these decisions must be both respected and supported. Women of all ages become mothers for many reasons, and it is not the business of the state or anyone else to attempt to control anyone’s fertility, regardless of their age.
As a reproductive health organization, we support many of the policies that are put in place to “address teen pregnancy”: comprehensive sexuality education, increased affordability and access to contraception, and the expansion of public programs that address reproductive health, such as Title X and Medicaid, are a few examples of these policies. However, we support these policies as part of a platform to increase women’s ability to make informed choices that are relevant to their lives, and not as an attempt for the state to control young women’s fertility.
Additionally, we support initiatives that expand young women’s options – particularly low-income young women and young women of color – for higher education and job access such as tuition reimbursement, loan forgiveness and affirmative action. It is important to remember that these policy initiatives are valid in and of themselves, and attempting to use them to steer women’s reproductive health choices to what those in power find to be socially acceptable devalues them and can create skepticism towards what would otherwise be valuable initiatives.
Lastly, as a part of supporting all women’s reproductive decisions, it is imperative to create a system of support for young mothers. Though policymakers often cite statistics regarding young mothers’ likeliness to drop out of school or live in poverty, much less often do we see policies presented to meaningfully address these issues for young mothers, such as initiatives to create subsidized child-care centers at institutions of higher learning. Young women do not loose their rights or personhood when they decide to become mothers, and should be afforded the same opportunities to lead fulfilling lives as young women who decide to parent later in their lives or decide not to parent at all.
Verónica comes to the Latina Institute with a wide range of experiences in reproductive justice, including direct services, research, and advocacy. She worked as an HIV and sexual health counselor at a community clinic during her time as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she received her B.S. in Psychology and a minor in Women’s studies. Verónica later worked as a reproductive and sexual health counselor, served as the Vice-President of the Wisconsin Chapter of the National Organization for Women, and then moved to New York City to get her Master’s degree in the Sexuality and Health program at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. At NLIRH Verónica conducts research and analysis of national policy that affects the sexual and reproductive health and rights of Latinas, as well as writing and speaking about these issues.

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