South Carolina ranks 3rd nationally (per capita) in cases of gonorrhea, 5th for Chlamydia, 12th for syphilis and 10th for AIDS case rates. Each year more than 10,000 South Carolina teenagers become pregnant, by age 25, one in two sexually active young people will contract a sexually transmitted disease.
While a handful of folks are living in the past bemoaning the sale of birth control other health officials like those at Planned Parenthood are busy trying to educate sexually active people and prevent the spread of disease and unwanted and unplanned pregnancies. I think it is long past time for folks in South Carolina to embrace the mission of public health workers and Planned Parenthood. I spent two years of my life performing rapid HIV testing on high risk individuals and counseling them on preventing STD’s and I can personally tell you that the need for prevention and education is staggering in South Carolina. Most if not all of the young folks I counseled had NEVER had extensive sex education or a clear explanation of the transmission and prevention of STD’s including HIV. Their hunger for the information was palpable and they also seemed eager to adopt a healthier lifestyle once they were given the facts.
As the mother of a soon to be 20 year old son, I understand the unwillingness to accept the fact that one day (sooner than you would like) your precious child will have sex. But…what I cannot accept is to ignore the facts and risk your child’s life because of your squeamishness to talk openly and honestly about sex. Parent’s inability to embrace their responsibilities in this area makes the need for clinics operated by public health officials and private concerns like Planned Parenthood all the more vital. Public health centers are chronically understaffed and underfunded. Charged with the life saving tasks of preventing diseases of all kinds, one would think public health would be a priority for our state but that is not the case.
Knee jerk reactions and misinformation have lead to the demonization of the mission and purpose of Planned Parenthood. Let me be perfectly clear; Planned Parenthood’s mission is stated in its name, the prevention of un- planned pregnancies through affordable reproductive health care. Let go of the notion that Planned Parenthood clinics are simply providers of abortion services and embrace the knowledge that their clinics across the country provide quality health care to men, women and teens at affordable rates. One in four American women (including me) has chosen Planned Parenthood for health care at least once in her life. The very fact that these clinics exist allows young people and adults to seek out preventive reproductive tests and treatment like Pap smears and the opportunity to access free or low-cost methods of birth control. Even more vital is the information provided by Planned Parenthood and health care workers. Many of these people are ignorant about their bodies and sexual activity; they need factual information to protect themselves and their partners. Keep in mind these individuals are already having sex, public health workers aren’t in the business to encourage promiscuity or preach morality. They are standing in front of the rising tide, bailing as fast as they can.
Unless and until thoughtful, caring citizens embrace the notion that sex education and contraception are vital to our society, nothing will change and all of us are the worse for it.