Wednesday, January 30, 2008

State of the Union

If only President Bush actually meant everything he said the other night:

We must trust patients and doctors to make medical decisions

By one of my favorite cartoonists, Signe Wilkinson.

United States Social Forum

So this is really old news but I thought I'd post it anyway. This summer I spent a week at the first ever United States Social Forum as one of Choice USA's Reproductive Justice Youth Ambassadors. The conference was very thought provoking and inspiring. I had the chance to learn about issues I'd never be exposed to, become more informed about causes I support, and network for possible cross-movement campaigns. I didn't agree with every viewpoint presented and the Forum, but it was good to be challenged by new ideas, especially since I tend to surround myself with people who have the same general values as I do, and most of the opposing views I encounter are just so opposite to mine that they don't have much affect on me. Overall I'm grateful for the experience and hope the Forum will continue to grow in the coming years.

Choice USA @...


The story of Choice USA's Reproductive Justice Youth Ambasssadors at the first ever United States Social Forum...

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

A Blog for Choice

*Cross-posted at Choice Words

Blog for Choice Day

This past Saturday hundreds of anti-choice demonstrators armed with graphic (and grossly distorted) pictures of aborted fetuses were bussed to reproductive justice safe-heaven San Francisco for their third-annual Walk For Life West.

I was present at its first incarnation in 2005, in which Planned Parenthood Golden Gate and other Bay Area pro-choice organizations put together a fabulous event to show the anti-choice contingent that San Francisco is truly a pro-choice city. The day began with a rally that included an inspiring speech from mayor Gavin Newsom, followed by a march from Market Street to the Embarcadero where we lined the route of the Walk for Life. The meeting of the two sides was largely non-confrontational, save for an incident at the end where several pro-choice activists linked arms and blocked the street, forcing the Walk to change their route. I thought it was kind of awesome.

Two years later I spoke at a counter-rally that took place before the Walk for Life West 2007. The turnout was definitely disappointing and not nearly enough to line the entire route of the march. It made me wonder if it would be better to have done nothing at all – had we not been there, the only witnesses to the march would be people going to the farmers market, at least along the Embarcadero.

On the other hand, I know the damage that can come from inaction. During my sophomore year, Stanford Students for Choice decided we didn’t need to do a counter-protest at everything Students for Life did, but after the appearance of their annual mock-graveyard in the middle of campus, we found that the students wanted to see a pro-choice presence to counter the morbid scene, so we threw together a pro-Roe table with ribbons and a huge poster for people to write pro-choice messages. Since then we’ve marked the anniversary of Roe v. Wade with a birthday party of sorts including music, balloons, and pro-choice cupcakes.

In general, I’m not too fond of counter-demonstrations, particularly on a day we should be celebrating, like the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Also I find that they’re generally less successful than events planned for their own sake and not as a response. Perhaps most importantly, counter-demonstrations tend to breed confrontation, and allow the media to portray our movement as angry or hostile, especially in a case like this where the opposition is praying and mourning the unborn. Instead of fighting gross pictures of fetuses with hangers, get some balloons and rise above.

P.S. Here’s the speech I gave at last year’s rally:

Good morning. My name is Jessica Haro, and I am 21 years old, meaning I was born twelve years after Roe. I grew up in a world where abortion was always legal, in a school district that offered comprehensive sex education, and in a family where I can talk openly about my choices as a sexual being. So it is no surprise that I became “another youth for choice.”

I have to admit that many of my fellow students are not here this morning. Part of the reason is that as young people, this is about the time we’re meant to get up. And another part of that is what some would call apathy.

As students at a Bay Area university that has always admitted women, where free condoms are plentiful, whose health center offers cheap birth control, and where abortions are available on campus in the hospital, this morning Stanford students had the luxury to turn off the alarm and go back to bed.

But I see this as something other than apathy. It’s that they know that the legality of abortion should go without saying. The truth is we don’t know what it was like before Roe, nor should we. I’m glad many in my generation don’t understand the symbol of the wire hanger, and that some of my friends were confused when I suggested we break out our knitting needles as a counter-demonstration to the mock graveyard that will appear on campus on Monday.

I’m glad because to me, this is evidence that we will never go back. My generation is so far removed from the days before Roe, that to us, the idea of abortion being illegal is ridiculous. And because we have always had this right, I know it is something we won’t let anyone take away.

This is why I’m so proud to be here today representing Choice USA, a youth-focused organization that identifies and trains emerging leaders to be the future of our movement.

So on a day characterized by looking back, I encourage you look forward and know that in the hands of today’s youth, the future is bright.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Happy Martin Luther King Day!

A beautiful speech Barack Obama gave at Martin Luther King Jr.'s church in Atlanta, Georgia, in which he talks about unity, the moral deficit in our country that leads us to ignore Darfur and send our children to schools where skin color can determine "the content of your education," the tensions between African Americans and Latino immigrants, and my favorite: hope.

Pregnancy in the movies

Quick hit, via's Weekly Feminist Reader:

Anatomy of a Smushmortion is a great blog entry on Hollywood's reluctance to say 'the a-word' let alone portray a woman having an abortion, as well as their usually completely unrealistic portrayals of pregnancy.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

How It Should Be: A portrait of comprehensive sex education

*Cross posted on Choice Words and

I am proud to say that I was a recipient of a great comprehensive sex education. I came away from freshman Health with the proper knowledge upon which to base my decisions about becoming sexually active, and the sense to always practice safe sex. The only real complaint I ever heard was that there should be a refresher course senior year for those of us who just recently or had yet to become sexually active.

According to literature from the Santa Barbara School district, the program is designed to encourage abstinence until marriage and include information about human sexuality, parenting and contraception, sexually transmitted diseases, and AIDS prevention. While I don’t remember much emphasis on waiting for marriage, I do remember the constant repetition that abstinence was the only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancy and STIs, but if you’re going to have sex, you MUST practice safe sex.

Looking back I’m impressed at how non-judgmental and gender-neutral the experience was. Instead of leaving out queer students by defining sex as an act between a man and a woman, we learned about various sex practices and their risks using medical terms like ‘penile-anal intercourse’ and ‘oral-vaginal intercourse,’ which thankfully kept us safer than kids given an abstinence-only education who have unprotected anal sex, thinking it’s a safer choice because it’s ‘not really sex.’ We also discussed how and when to talk about sex and contraception with a partner (not while naked under the covers), and even non-intercourse options like mutual masturbation.

As part of the program we heard from various guest speakers. One young woman talked about her experience being raped, the various types of birth control, and the process of getting tested for STIs. I have to admit that while she was explaining how the speculum is used in a vaginal exam she stopped in the middle of what she was saying to tell me that it’s really not that bad, because apparently I had a look of absolute horror on my face. Two UCSB students talked to us about the dangers of mixing sex with alcohol and taught us how to put on a condom, though instead of just showing us they had a blindfolded girl try to put a condom on a banana, then went through step by step showing us what she did wrong, from the girl tearing the wrapper open with her teeth to being impaired by alcohol (hence the blindfold).

To balance these two speakers we heard from a woman who taught us about gender roles and saving ourselves for marriage. I remember being embarrassed when I learned that apparently I look at my fingernails like a boy – girls put their hands out palms down, while boys hold their hands palms up and bend their fingers to see their nails. I forget what exactly this had to do with sex… She also demonstrated the harms of having multiple sex-partners by repeatedly putting on and pulling off a piece of duct tape from a boy’s arm, showing how it stuck less each time, to teach us that each time we have sex with a new person our ability to bond with them is diminished.

At the time I took sex ed, I knew nothing about abstinence-only education and didn’t appreciate how lucky I was to receive a truly comprehensive sex education. In college I volunteered at the Sexual Health Peer Resource Center, and during our training we talked about what kind of sex ed we each had in high school, if any. I was appalled to hear what other people were told, and more importantly, not told about sex. To draw attention to this problem, Stanford Students for Choice, our Choice USA chapter, held a remedial sex ed event, and the SHPRC does educational outreaches all over campus, including many freshman dorms. This is, of course, not the answer, as about half of all students have had sex by the time they graduate high school.

With abstinence-only education proven many times over to be ineffective and even harmful as teen birth rates increase along with STI prevalence, it is essential that all teens receive a comprehensive sex education.