THE EARTH TIMES
MAY 1 – 15 1998
Jane Fonda concerned about teen pregnancies
By Ashali Varma
UNITED NATIONS, New York—As an activist for women’s rights, Jane Fonda has been known to taken on the Catholic Church for its views against contraception, reproductive health rights for women and the need to educate adolescents on sexual health and reproductive rights.
On April 15 she spoke at a roundtable meeting organized by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) about her involvement in programs to prevent teenage pregnancies in Georgia. Fonda said, “Georgia has the one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy, repeat pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases such as gonorrhea in the United States. Its problems are the same as those faced by developing countries, such as rural poverty, malnutrition among children and adult illiteracy.”
The meeting had been organized to review the status, achievements and programs that have been initiated on the reproductive and sexual health needs of adolescents by different countries.
Addressing more than 50 delegates representing UN member states and non- governmental organizations (NGOs) who had come together to share their experiences, Fonda spoke about how the International Conference on Population and Development, held in Cairo in 1994, had changed her views on reproductive health.
“Cairo was a seminal experience for me. What I learned in Cairo was that in order to be effective one would have to take a comprehensiveapproach on the whole issue of fertility, involving the status of women, education and empowerment. Personally, what I got out of Cairo was that adolescents need more choices. If you want to reduce pregnancy among teenagers you have to work with them differently.”
After Cairo, in 1996 Fonda started a program in her home state of Georgia called the Georgia
Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (GCAPP). Describing GCAPP as an NGO
that helps communities come together around issues affecting teen pregnancies, she said that its emphasis is on prevention and education. GCAPP works by entering into partnerships with
other existing groups, by providing sources of funding for these groups and researching the best possible strategies to prevent teen pregnancy.
Surveys have found, she said, that what the American public really wants is comprehensive, medically accurate, abstinence based sexual education for adolescents.
“Just saying No is not adequate any more,” she said passionately, “not when there is such a sizeable gap between the onset of puberty and marriage, a gap that never used to exist before. You have to provide girls with information on how not to get pregnant, on how not to get a disease.”
Addressing the conservative right’s complaint that sex education at an early age leads to promiscuity and abortion, she said that on the contrary, the emphasis on, prevention of pregnancy would reduce abortion.
“I support what President Clinton said about abortion, that it should be “Safe, legal and rare,” she said, “We are about making abortion rare.”
She added that her group has more in common with its critics than they realize. “We are in favor of teaching comprehensive, abstinence-based sexuality in schools. That doesn’t mean we are in favor of increased sexual activity, it doesn’t mean we’re, anti-parent.”
Fonda spoke of the need for mandatory counseling when teens come to clinics, a counseling that is based on values. But she also spoke of the need to talk to young people with understanding and respect, of creating an atmosphere in which they feel comfortable. Clinic staff need to be trained specifically to talk with young people who come to them, she said, or they’ll never return. Recalling the experience of a 21-year-old woman she met who had had her first child when she was 12, she said she had tried going to a clinic but had never returned
because she had been treated “like a whore.”
Elaborating on the causes of teenage pregnancy, she spoke of the universality of some of its
underlying causes. Poverty was the main cause, she said, not only a consequence of teenage
pregnancies. “Poverty is a precursor to teen pregnancy,” she said. “About 80 percent of the
young girls who get pregnant are poor.”
Sexual abuse is another. Many teenage mothers have been sexually abused at some point, she
said, leading to a loss of a sense of control over their bodies at an early age.
A lack of adequate parenting and inadequate health services are some of the other underlying
causes, she said.
“Basically, teenage pregnancy is an adult problem, caused by adults, and therefore it needs to be solved by adults,” she said.
In an interview with The Earth Times, Fonda spoke of the importance of advocacy in dealing
with the problem of adolescent sexual and reproductive health.
“Finally, one important message that we want to get out is how successful the national family
planning programs have been. The conservative side of the country says they failed because the teen pregnancy rate has not dropped. But there are twice as many teenagers in the country right now as there were in the Fifties, so the pregnancy rate has not gone up. What that means is that there are a lot more teenagers who are using contraceptives now.”
One of GCAPP’s main impacts has been to influence legislation in Georgia that focuses on welfare reform, increased funding for after school activities, family planning and sexual education.