I am outraged.
Today, a friend and colleague who works for the school-based clinic at Emerson High School dropped by my office to pick up some resources for her patients, clients, and students. It's a common occurrence because we have some great resources to share with teens. This visit was a bit different, though. This time, my friend also dropped by to say goodbye.
In case you did not catch the local news last month (which you probably didn't because the media has been unusually silent on the subject), our legislature stopped all state funding of two incredibly important and successful programs targeting teen parents.
For years, the Margaret Hudson program in Tulsa and the Emerson Teen Clinic have provided on site health care, including prenatal and postnatal care for teen moms. These clinics provided so much more than health care to keep teens and their babies healthy. They were reliable sources of education on childcare, parenting, pregnancy prevention, STI and HIV prevention, and other important life skills for all teens in the area. They were models of how a good program should and does work.
But now, because our legislators were looking for easy targets for budget cuts, both programs are likely to be closed. State taxpayer support has ended. Now, the connections between access to health care, education, health, and responsibility will be severed for some of our most vulnerable populations.
So I am outraged. I am outraged that the majority of Oklahoma's legislators are short-sighted and that they care more about their own prejudices and agendas than they do sound public policy.
I am outraged because our state and most of our legislators present themselves as "pro-life" and anti-abortion. If this was really the case, why cut the state's only two programs dedicated to medically supporting teens who have chosen to carry their pregnancies to term? Why would they end access to other social services by ceasing the operation of these two programs, both of which have built intricate social service partnerships and networks across the state?
I am outraged because the bulk of the legislature is not "pro-life." In fact, it seems that once an abortion is averted, our elected officials lose interest in what happens next to a teen parent struggling with all the obstacles ahead. The Emerson and Margaret Hudson programs helped teens negotiate the challenges and overcome the obstacles. But no more.
I am outraged that the legislature passed an unnecessary bill that required abortion providers to report statistical information that could potentially threaten the medical privacy of patients. Why does this outrage me? For one, this new law will cost taxpayers an estimated $280,000 a year, and the additional information to be reported does nothing but put a greater burden on abortion providers. Correction - it does nothing but put a greater burden on abortion providers and take funding away from worthwhile programs like the clinics at Emerson and Margaret Hudson that actually decrease the need for abortion.
At first glance, neither of these terrible legislative actions has anything at all to do with R.E.A.L. education. But they do. Sexual health education with accompanying access to health care is proven to reduce the rates of second pregnancies (and therefore, abortions) among teen parents. A legislator who was truly "pro-life," I would hope, would see the wisdom in expanding programs like those at Emerson and Margaret Hudson to other parts of the state. Although education alone does have an influence on health and healthy decisions, it is even more effective when it's backed up by health care services, social support, and a motive to plan for the future. That is what the school clinics provided - not only to pregnant and parenting teens, but to all students who had easy access to their services.
When I get really, really busy (which is most of the time), I sometimes forget about the collaboration between individuals and agencies that it takes to make a difference in people's lives. The recent legislative funding priorities, though, are painful reminders that we don't function in a vacuum. We operate as a system. And when one or two important components are taken away, we all suffer.