As kids gear up for another school year, sex education probably isn’t the first thing on everyone’s minds, but perhaps Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards’ upcoming visit to Eugene can serve as a reminder that learning about sex in an informative, helpful way is still an integral part of our school system. Richards has served as president of Planned Parenthood since 2006, and in that time, she has worked to promote sex education and maintain access to preventive care throughout health care system upheavals.
On Sept. 11, Richards will help Planned Parenthood of Southwest Oregon celebrate its educational achievements and will discuss the future of well-crafted sex ed programs in Oregon. The fundraising dinner is 6 pm at the Hilton Eugene and Conference Center, and tickets can be purchased at wkly.ws/1ji.
What do you think is the most pressing issue facing reproductive health care in this country?
Access to reproductive health care is a major issue for millions of women across America. There are still vast parts of the country where people don’t have access to quality reproductive health care and often have alarming health outcomes as a result. In many counties in many states, there is not a single OB/GYN provider available. As if that isn’t bad enough, politicians across the country are trying to pass laws that would cut off access to women’s health care and, in the process, close health centers that women rely on for lifesaving cancer screenings, preventive care and birth control. These laws have a devastating impact on women who already have the least access to health care.
Is the Affordable Care Act a step in the right direction when it comes to providing reproductive health care?
The Affordable Care Act is the single biggest advancement in women’s health in a generation and is already making a big difference in the lives of women across the country. For the first time, women of all walks of life are starting to get both birth control and important well-woman checkups at no cost.
And starting Oct. 1, nearly 12 million uninsured women of reproductive age will become newly eligible for affordable health insurance coverage. These plans cover things that are important to women, including birth control and well-woman visits at no cost, as well as doctor visits, hospitalizations, maternity care, ER care and other prescriptions.
Like always, Planned Parenthood is here to help — go to PlannedParenthood.org/HealthInsurance for more information about how to enroll.
How do you think Wendy Davis’ stand in Texas brought greater attention to the issues of women’s health care nationwide?
Wendy Davis and the thousands of Texans who stood with her lit the fuse in Austin — and it is catching all over the country. People don’t want politicians making women’s private medical decisions, cutting off access to lifesaving preventive care or safe and legal abortion — and they absolutely will not stand for it. In the first minutes of the citizens’ filibuster down in Texas, something started that can’t be stopped. And now, spurred on by the good people of Texas and beyond, folks all over the country are standing up to attacks on women’s health, saying once and for all: Enough is enough. They’re calling it “pulling a Wendy Davis.”
How far have we come in terms of sex education in our public schools, and what is the biggest challenge facing sex education?
Sex education has come a long way over the past 20 years. Over 100 studies have shown that comprehensive sex education helps young people delay sex and use condoms and contraception when they do become sexually active, so we’ve made tremendous progress in developing programs that have been proven to work. And parents, who are talking with their kids about sex more than ever, have made it clear that they support comprehensive sex education in middle and high schools. Also, thanks to the Obama administration, the federal government began funding evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs for the first time in 2010, instead of continuing to fund failed abstinence-only programs. That funding has enabled schools and organizations like Planned Parenthood to reach many more teens with effective programs.
Oregon is a shining star in this regard. In the previous decade, Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon launched an initiative known as the New 3Rs (Rights, Respect, Responsibility). This statewide work was the primary catalyst for the state of Oregon’s work shifting its focus from pregnancy prevention to focusing on the promotion of adolescent sexual health. Another way to say that is, Oregon is promoting youth sexual health as opposed to preventing sexual health crises. It is a much longer-term strategy to foster health rather than treat sickness.
In terms of challenges, I hear from our Planned Parenthood affiliates all the time that the biggest challenge facing sex education is the lack of money for education. It’s hard to believe that our country still provides funding for abstinence-only programs even though research and experience have shown it to be totally ineffective. We need philanthropists to step up and joyfully fund comprehensive sex education so our youth have the tools they need. And healthy sexuality education has always been part of Planned Parenthood’s preventive health care. There should be a big education component in our health care going forward. People make better decisions when they have accurate information.
We are also constantly trying to find new and better ways to reach young people through technology — on our websites and social media properties, through apps and widgets — but there’s just so much information available right now that getting them the information they need in a relevant way remains a challenge. Over the past several years, Planned Parenthood has been committed to reaching young people where they are — online and on their phones — and we need to continue to innovate and find ways to adapt the approaches that we know work in classrooms to a digital environment.
Currently, how well does sex ed include kids who identify as LGBTQ?
This is a really important question, as young people who identify as LGBTQ experience huge disparities in their sexual health, including high rates of STDs. Planned Parenthood strives to ensure that all our sex ed programs are nonjudgmental and inclusive of all youth, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. Many Planned Parenthood affiliates around the country have programs for LGBTQ youth and allies that provide safe and supportive environments that allow young people to get the information and support they need to make healthy decisions. With that said, we definitely need to continue to strive as a field to improve our programs so that they are responsive to the needs of all young people.
PPSO teaches to the Oregon benchmarks and standards which are inclusive of all youth. Talking about sexual health is so important because sexual health is inclusive. Reproductive health may not be inclusive. So Oregon is a leader in this regard with its Oregon Equality Act.
Can you speak to how Oregon’s sex ed plan compare to other states, and if there is room for improvement?
Oregon has been a true leader when it comes to sex education. While many other states have cut sex education funding or pushed abstinence-only programs, Oregon state policy mandates comprehensive sex education in middle and high school. What’s more, the state adopted a Youth Sexual Health Plan to ensure that the promises of the policy are borne out, a full three years before the nation announced a similar plan.
Planned Parenthood of Southwest Oregon’s New 3 Rs is the catalyst that got the Governor involved and all state agencies working with the affiliate that culminated in Oregon’s Youth Sexual Health Plan. That was the result of strong partnerships and commitment to young people’s wellbeing on the part of state and local officials, community partners, and advocates. It would be wonderful to see the state of Oregon share outcomes from this work so that other states and communities can learn from the experience here and so that Oregon can serve as a model for those wanting to adopt a more proactive approach to youth sexual health.