Name tags

Attempting to attend as many name-badge requiring teen pregnancy get togethers as possible.

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Governor Bryant, Our Father, baby-daddy, holy miracles and repopulating the Earth

Update:  MSDH confirmed to me that $1500 from the general fund was used for the room rental at the request of Governor Bryant and negotiated by Nycole Campbell-Lewis (member of the governor’s task force on reducing teen pregnancy)  the ab-only teen pregnancy summit.

This is a snippet of the 15 minute video I took yesterday at the state funded/publicly funded teen pregnancy summit in Jackson headlined by Governor Phil Bryant.  I couldn’t upload a full 15 minute video so had to take a screen grab.  At around 3:45 mark – if you don’t want to watch the whole thing – you can begin watching for Gov. Bryant talking about:

  • “Our Father” who art in heaven
  • Holy miracle
  • The Creator giving us sex to populate and repopulate the Earth*

Opening prayer given by a young woman, the Governor’s Christianity laced speech followed by dance performance to the Christian song which I believed (based on the chorus) was called Take Me to The King featuring mentions of Jesus, The King, laying at the throne, souls, etc.

Remember, this conference was paid for with public funds via the Mississippi Department of Health.  This is reportedly because since the  MSDH paid for the MS Women’s Fund Ab-Plus Conference which is within its purview and appropriate.  However, it is unclear at this time what pot of money was used for the Governor’s summit.  I have placed a call to the MDH to sort it out.

As I noted yesterday in my little video recap, it was not just the religious nature of this event that was legally dubious but the noted lack of preparation for the event.  It was poorly attended, seemingly only served Jackson students and suggests a lack of real seriousness on the part of Governor Bryant to thoughtfully and effectively tackle the staggering teen birth rate in Mississippi.

*Repopulating the Earth has been of grave concern to the believers of the demographic winter for some time and recently Ross Douthat at the New York Times.  Declining fertility rates have certain Christians concerned – very concerned.  I wrote a tiny bit about this in a piece for Religion Dispatches on the myth of sex-selective abortion in the US:

  • Steven Mosher is of special note as he was a vocal advocate and perhaps the inspiration for the 2008 PRENDA. As Hvistendahl writes:  In 2008 [Mosher] posited to supporters that sex-selective abortion was the next logical battleground in the abortion war—not because it is inherently discriminatory and results in worsening status for women but because an “incremental approach” to restricting access to abortion is more workable than a flat-out ban. “I propose that we—the pro-life movement—adopt as our next goal the banning of sex-selective abortion.” And, as Kathryn Joyce has explained: Mosher, president of the Catholic anti-contraception lobbyist group Population Research Institute (PRI), describes his grim vision of Europe’s future: fields will lie fallow and economies will wither. A great depression will sink over the continent as it undergoes “a decline that Europe hasn’t experienced since the Black Death.” The comeuppance has a name, one being fervently hawked among a group of Christian Right “pro-family” activists hoping to spark a movement in secular Europe. It’s called the “demographic winter,” a more austere brand of apocalypse than doomsayers normally trade in, evoking not a nuclear inferno but a quiet and cold blanket of snow in which, they charge, “Western Civilization” is laying itself down to die.

 

FYI: The Mississippi Department of Human Service, not Department of Health, was sued by the ACLU several years ago for including religion in an abstinence rally. MSDH and MDHS are 2 different agencies.eventschedule

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Ab-Plus, Ab-Only and God

Very brief overview of the two events I attended today – Ab-Plus conference and the Governor’s teen pregnancy summit. Much, much more to come.

“80% of Christians in Mississippi are riding church pews into hell”.

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Anti-abortion activist out front of Mississippi’s only remaining free-standing abortion clinic

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Today I spent an hour  talking with anti-abortion advocates out front of the Jackson Women’s Clinic the state’s last free-standing clinic providing abortions.  I had come to talk with Roy McMillan who has been protesting in front of the clinic every day it sees patients for years and years and years.  McMillan wasn’t there, but one of his associates quickly got him on the phone and handed it over to me.

He and his wife, Dr. Beverly McMillan, OB-GYN (who Roy called a “reformed abortionist”) supported the so-named personhood amendment last year in the state which would have outlawed most forms of hormonal birth control and in-vitro fertilization.   The couple has been ill recently so haven’t been a presence at the clinic in the past weeks, but Roy is getting back there in the next day or so.  He invited me over to speak to he and Dr. McMillan at their home – about a mile from the clinic – to do a proper interview.

During my conversation with McMillan, I watched the woman protestor follow couples, young women and men, as they walked into and out of the clinic – telling them “you don’t have to do this” and “you are already a mother.”  In fact when I first approached, she told me, “you don’t have to do this.”

Before I left, I spoke with the male activist out front of the clinic.  I thanked him for the use of his phone and time.  I told him I appreciated his understanding I wasn’t there to just tell their side of the story, that I was there to talk about religion – for good or for ill – and its impact on sexual education and teen pregnancy.  That one of the reasons I wanted to come to Mississippi was because it is listed as the most religious state in the country.

He said something then that surprised me. That Mississippi is listed as most religious but that just speaks to the number of churchgoers which is misleading.  He chuckled a bit and said, “80% of Christians in Mississippi are riding church pews to hell.”

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We can’t talk about teen pregnancy in Mississippi without talking about religion

signsfirst

Religion – Christianity specifically – is inescapable in Mississippi.  I went to the Office Depot the other day to flesh out my roaming office.  If you look closely at the photo above, you will see Signs First (quickest sign company in town!).  To indicate their banner printing prowess, the selected a quote from an 18 aught-something SCOTUS quote, “…This is a religious people…a Christian Nation”.

I have seen bible verses on:

  • Coffee bags
  • County offices
  • School office doors in Canton
  • Billboards
  • Bumper stickers
  • The side of mini-malls….

To name just a few.

Religion is so inextricably married to public policy making and thought leadership in the government it is unclear how or if they will ever untangle.

This is from the PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life:

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But do not paint Mississippi with a broad religious brush.  There are many non-believers, alternative believers and Christians who believe the Christians in power – those with the public face – are giving the real Christians a bad name.

When thinking about abstinence only until marriage programs, keep in mind the entire idea of ab-only is predicated on a Christian worldview of marriage:  between one man, one woman, for eternity, only within the confines of marriage is intercourse allowed, birth control should not be used – your childbearing is up to God.

This is a closely held belief of many churches (SBC (Southern Baptist Convention) churches, Evangelical, Pentecostal, African Methodist Churches and certain African-American Baptist churches – SBC isn’t closely aligned with Black Baptists – and independents).  School board members, superintendents and hyper local school district administrators bring those beliefs into their decision-making to fulfill the requirements of HB 999.

Ab-only also serves to reinforce gender stereotypes – woman as responsible for a man’s sexual appetite, cautioning modest dress and reminding young girls how sex driven boys are because of all those raging hormones.

This is from a piece I wrote on WAIT Training, a Denver based only curriculum and training business.  WAIT has been selected by several Mississippi schools as ab-only and ab-plus curriculum (as allowed by the state). In this clip – and more are available if you follow the above link – is about a girl who has sex with a new boy every semester.  The girl, symbolized by a piece of clear packing tape, is repeated tapped to boys’ arms.  She peels up flakes of skin, hair, germs, etc.  By the time the WAIT spokesperson, Shelley Donahue is done, the girl is ruined:

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1st Annual Teen Pregnancy Conference

A hastily put together summit on teen pregnancy prevention was announced today by Governor Phil Bryant’s office.  If one was going to have a summit, one might get the press release out a few weeks in advance.

And lets address the flyer.  There are several things amiss here in my opinion.  First of course is the stretch-marked pregnant belly.  Perhaps suggesting to an overly body conscious teen girl to not get pregnant because she will become unattractive?  Stretch marks are the reality for scores of women who have children so using it as the Governor has is degrading.  I have stretch marks (whoa nelly!) from my pregnancy and I am offended that this image is used.

And, since we know that young women get pregnant on their own, there is no penis pictured here, nor is there a boy anywhere on the flyer.

The advertising bursts contradict the fear centric imagery and add a strange air of levity to the event.  The font across the girl’s pregnant tummy is borderline whimsical.

The governor will be keynoting it seems, and, since he is staunchly abstinence only until marriage, I will be interested to hear his strategy for keeping teens from having sex.

The governor’s task force on teen pregnancy has done very little thus far.  In my conversations with women in the teen pregnancy prevention arena (both in and out of government agencies) only one town hall meeting has been held and no real committee meetings have been called.

Next Tuesday, December 11th will be one of the first sub-committee meetings – on faith-based organizations and the faith community.

2012 Summit Flyer

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We cannot talk about teen pregnancy in Mississippi without talking about race

Mississippi’s African American population is disproportionately impacted:

Overall teen population in Mississippi

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Breakout of white vs. non-white teen births

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  • MS population breakdown (first number MS; second number US)

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Mississippi Board of Education’s sex-ed choice for Mississippi state run schools

HB 999 requires Mississippi public schools teach abstinence only until marriage or abstinence “plus” which includes talk of condoms and contraception (although discussion is strictly regulated and there can’t be age-appropriate demonstrations on the proper use of condoms).

Over half of the state’s schools chose, not surprising to many, abstinence only programming.  However a majority of schools with some of the highest teen birth rates chose the abstinence plus.  Referred to by comprehensive sex ed advocacy group, Mississippi First as Priority 1 (P1) these schools overwhelmingly located in The Delta – the poorest region in Mississippi.

MLL-delta

But, when the state of Mississippi – the actual Mississippi Department of Education had to choose a curriculum for their schools, they chose abstinence plus.  There are four state run schools – The School for the Blind and The School for the Deaf, both located in Jackson and the School of Math and Science in Columbus, Mississippi and The School of the Arts in Brookhaven, Mississippi – they chose an abstinence plus approach.

Each school district’s board of education (BOE) selected a curriculum whether ab-plus or ab-only.  These decisions were to not be made in a vacuum and with public input and professional input.  So, while half the state’s schools went with abstinence only, it is worthwhile to note the state BOE selected abstinence-plus.

Note:

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Jackson!

After a long day of travel PATH train, NJ Transit, EWR – ATL – JAN – Budget Rental Car and finally my home for the next three weeks I want to update on the goings on for the weekend.

Tomorrow (Saturday, Dec 1) I will be attending my very first gathering of a group of ladies in Jackson called Dirty South Feminists.  I was invited to join the group by Mississippi Public Broadcasting reporter, producer and now friend, Annie Gilbertson.  I am not sure what goes on at these functions but its pot-luck so there will be plenty of food to eat while discussing current lady issues in the dirty south.  Everyone attending is invited to bring a topic to discuss or come along for the ride.  I already know what my topic is (hint:  rhymes with flex ted).

But, I am sure the subject of Mississippi’s only abortion clinic shutting down in January will be a huge topic at the get together:

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization filed for a preliminary injunction Wednesday to delay enforcement of the new law. Clinic officials say House Bill 1390, which was signed into law in April, imposes unnecessary guidelines and requires abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. The clinic’s doctors have been unable to gain those privileges. (Read here.)

The hope is that a federal judge will step in to keep the clinic open.

Sunday (Dec. 2) shalt not be a day of rest for me.  My host, Betty, happens to have friends who have been in and around the sex-education and teen pregnancy policy making machinery in Mississippi going back a couple of decades.  They will be coming over to Betty’s house for a “salon” (Betty’s word, and one I believe that should be brought back, the practice radically implemented).  I hope to gather some historical information about the development of sex ed in Mississippi.  How the conversation started at a state policy level, what the various churches did or didn’t do or say during the process, how those churches and the powerful Southern Baptist Convention influenced sex ed policy and how Mississippi finally got to the point of HB 999 (requiring ab-only or ab-“plus” be taught for the first time ever in public schools).

I’m goin’ to Jackson…and Oxford, and The Delta, and….

Finally able to head back to Mississippi. I will be leaving next Friday for three weeks, visiting several school districts, religious leaders, officials and others. This conference is one I have been looking forward to – the Women’s Fund Ab-Plus Conference.

Much more soon!