With every new year comes a new wave of fashion, and one group of activists is adding a medieval flair in 2005… with chastity belts.
The local Pro-Choice Pennsylvania group teamed up with the NARAL Pro-Choice America, formerly the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, one of the nation’s leaders in pro-choice advocacy, to initiate a protest against the state’s Chastity Awareness Week.
The organization’s giveusrealchoices.org campaign was launched in reaction to the Pennsylvania State Legislature’s decision to reinstate the awareness week, first passed in 1999.
The Web site urges individuals to ask their state legislators to send them chastity belts, mocking the abstinence-only program that was unanimously passed last year by Democratic and Republican politicians in Pennsylvania.
The protest is also a reaction to nearly $6 million of state and federal grants that support abstinence-only programs, without equally sponsoring other methods of birth control education that could decrease sexually transmitted diseases, along with pregnancy and abortion rates.
“The idea is that public money should do more than sponsor religious-based, abstinence-only programs,” said NARAL spokesperson Dan Klotz. “The point is to get the state legislature off of this chastity kick and offer real ways to fight for women’s health.”
Klotz was quick to point out that NARAL is not opposed to abstinence, but said it is also important to teach all-inclusive methods to students. Comprehensive education would inform them not only about abstinence, but also birth control methods and the reality of STDs and pregnancy-issues that affect many students every day.
“Ignoring one side or the other is not going to educate students,” said sophomore Julia Foley, a history and political science student. “You have to take in all points of view.”
NARAL is arguing that all points of view are not being considered.
While many students have heard of the state’s Chastity Awareness Week, they cannot say the same about a Birth Control Awareness Week. That is because there is not one.
Since the creation of Chastity Awareness Week in 1999, it appears some STDs have increased.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the country’s syphilis rate continued to rise through 2004 and chlamydia rates remained high. Pennsylvania’s reported chlamydia rate jumped nearly a thousand cases between 1999 and 2002.
Dr. John Douglas, director of the CDC’s STD prevention programs, stresses STD education as a method to reduce cases.
“The best time to educate young men and women about how to avoid STDs is long before there is a diagnosis,” said Douglas after attending the National STD Prevention Conference last year.
“Studies at the conference examine several approaches for reaching young people with information and STD screening to help them stay healthy.”
On the other hand, abstinence-only education centers on chastity, in which case STDs are avoided by not having sex.
“I think it’s a really naïve and unrealistic thing,” said Foley, who is pro-life, but wants every woman to have a choice.
“I do think abstinence-only organizations have good ideas, but they are ignoring a problem that is out there, whether they like it or not,” she added. “They have to realize that not everyone has the same ideology about pre-marital sex.”
The Family Life Educational Foundation of the Delaware Valley, a local pro-life group, was contacted to discuss their support of abstinence only-education but refused to comment on the issue.
“We would welcome any opportunity to have a discussion [with pro-life groups], but it’s difficult because we’re espousing a long list of ways to prevent STDs and AIDS,” said Klotz.
“The only response from the other side has been, hold your breath, cross your legs and don’t do anything until marriage.”
Pennsylvania received an “F” from NARAL because of its “anti-choice” standpoints, which include abstinence-only programs. The pro-choice organization also criticizes certain state restrictions that could hinder a woman’s right to choose.
Klotz added that comprehensive education is the realistic approach because it deals with what is really going on in the lives of teenagers and college students.
“The point is to educate on the importance of acting responsibly,” he said. “It’s more important to give students knowledge than to deny all knowledge.”
Leah Zerbe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.