The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women's perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

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How Foreign Abortion Bans Hurt Children

The following blog article and corresponding photo was posted on the New York Daily News, June 3, 2015 by Alex Sanger, chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and member of the Wellesley Centers for Women Council of Advisors.

With Memorial Day behind us and summer here, most kids in New York are finishing school or preparing for camp or dreaming of pools and extended playtime.

But this summer will be very, very different for one 10-year-old girl in Paraguay. Because she’s pregnant.

The girl’s doctors discovered the pregnancy after she complained of a stomachache. But despite the fact that the girl is 10 years old and that doctors have identified the pregnancy — the result of the girl being raped by her stepfather — as dangerous and high-risk, the Paraguayan government has refused her access to an abortion.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, seven countries ban abortion under all circumstances, even to save the life of the mother. Paraguay is not one of them. Even though the law of the land states that abortions are legal in instances that pose a significant threat to the health of the mother, the Paraguayan government continues to deny this child access to a potentially life-saving procedure. This constitutes a cruel denial of the girl’s basic human rights, tantamount to torture.

My grandmother, Margaret Sanger, founded the organizations that would become Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the International Planned Parenthood Federation — to provide education and services to men and women in an effort to end injustices like violence against women and enforced pregnancy. She believed that providing access to contraceptives and reproductive healthcare was integral in empowering women to fully engage and participate in their communities and live the lives they want. I followed in her footsteps and, as the head of Planned Parenthood New York City, heard from countless women who needlessly suffered before abortion became legal in New York.

Cases like this 10-year-old’s make it clear that that needless suffering hasn’t ended, especially if you look abroad. For instance, one out of every three women in Latin America is a mother before her 20th birthday. 20% of all adolescent pregnancies occur among girls younger than 15, and are often the result of sexual abuse within the family.

At IPPF Western Hemisphere Region clinics, we provide contraception and abortionblogpullquoteForeignAbortion services to women and girls who need them. What our clinic staff has seen firsthand is that blocking access to abortion and comprehensive reproductive health care doesn’t stop them from being needed, or even stop them from happening — it just keeps them from being safe. Due in large part to extensive abortion bans throughout the region, 95% of abortions in Latin America are performed in unsafe conditions that threaten the health and lives of women.

In fact, according to the World Health Organization, complications in pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death among adolescent girls in developing countries. Specifically, in Latin America, girls who give birth before the age of 16 are four times more likely to die during childbirth than women in their 20s.

And yet politicians around the globe — including in Paraguay and the United States — have shut their eyes to common sense and public health by continuing to ban and criminalize abortion, even abortion in cases of rape or incest. Children should not be forced into motherhood and doctors should not be kept from providing life-saving care just because of political hurdles.

And in instances like the 10-year-old girl currently pregnant in Paraguay, government officials shouldn’t be able to act counter to the spirit of the law and put young girls in serious danger because of political whims or extreme beliefs.

That’s why a broad spectrum of human rights and international advocacy organizations are calling on the Paraguayan minister of public health and wellbeing, Dr. Antonio Barrios, to immediately intervene and grant the girl access to safe abortion services. By doing that, Dr. Barrios would be upholding Paraguayan law and following the advice of leading international medical authorities — and, potentially, saving the life of a very real girl who has already survived more trauma than a child of her age should ever be forced to encounter.

Alexander Sanger is the author of Beyond Choice: Reproductive Freedom in the 21st Century, published in January 2004 by PublicAffairs. The grandson of Margaret Sanger, who founded the birth control movement over eighty years ago, Mr. Sanger is currently Chair of the International Planned Parenthood Council and has served as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Population Fund.

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Why Relationships Matter

Relationships are essential to fostering equity and excellence in our schools and classrooms. Social and emotional learning (SEL) programs are one of the vehicles that can be used to establish genuine, caring relationships throughout school communities. SEL programs that have a whole-school implementation model and are purposeful about infusing culturally-responsive curricula further enhance the positive impact on schools. It is proven that we learn best when we are in environments in which we feel cared for and connected to others. Research has demonstrated that children who have a positive connection with at least one adult stay in school longer, make better decisions, and have better life outcomes overall. Let’s be honest, when adults work in environments in which they have positive connections and feel cared for and valued, they perform better and their employers experience less turnover. Positive relationships are good for all of us.

As we research and think about our educational system and the gaps that exist for black and brown children, SEL programming has to be a critical component of the discussion. SEL programs, such as Open Circle, which include a whole-school implementation model, not only provide curricula for SEL skill building for students but also include professional development for SEL skill building and consciousness raising for all adults in the school community and at home.

The guiding principles on which Open Circle is grounded provide an importantblogpullquoteRelationshipsMatter framework for thinking about teaching and learning. The importance of relationships to cognitive and social growth, the importance of teaching SEL skills, and the importance of adults as models are the critical underpinnings of our work.

The importance of relationships to cognitive and social growth

Educators have known for a long time that “[children] don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” - Theodore Roosevelt When we show genuine care and concern for our students and their experiences, inside and outside of the classroom, and when we take the time to truly get to know and understand them, we are creating fertile ground for learning and engagement to take place.

The importance of teaching SEL skills

In my work as an educator in the Suffolk County House of Correction one of the things that struck me was how insightful and intelligent my students were. When I would ask them about their experiences in school, one theme that emerged was that being challenged by academics was not the thing that pulled them off a more positive path, but rather feeling ill-equipped to navigate and manage the social dynamics of school, family and community led to choices and situations that resulted in their involvement with the criminal justice system. Taking time out weekly to focus on SEL skill building is critical to equipping our students with the necessary competencies to cope with, manage, and rise above the daily challenges many face.

The importance of adults as models

The old adage of “do as I say and not as I do” has never been true. Parents and adults who work with children can attest that no matter what you say, children will more likely mimic what they see you do. This fact is important for caregivers and it is equally as important for educators and administrators. Taking time to invest in the quality of adult relationships and the modeling of those positive relationships is critical to this work. The student community mimics the adult community in many ways. If there is derision, gossiping, unfriendliness or devaluing among the adults, the same will hold true for the students. These ways of being permeate the space and gives it an unwelcoming, unsafe, and tense feel. Honoring our strengths, being curious and open to learn about our differences, and being honest about what we know and don’t know all contribute to the development and nurturing of positive relationships among the adult community.

By offering training for administrators, specialists and support staff, grade-level teachers, and families, Open Circle is recognizing that it does in fact “take a village.”

So as we continue the dialogue on how to fill the gaps in educational opportunity and achievement let’s not forget to start with the basics. Relationships, positive and genuine relationships, set the foundation for creating schools and classrooms in which all students and educators feel safe, cared for and engaged to do their best learning and teaching. Social and emotional programming is a means to this end. Open Circle offers the most comprehensive means of getting there.

Kamilah Drummond-Forrester joined Open Circle as a Program Manager in June 2013. She is the co-founder of the Dorchester Collegiate Academy Charter School (DCA) in Boston, MA. Kamilah served as the school’s first board chair and later became the Director of Wellness to work directly with students. She oversaw the social and emotional programming at the school. This included developing the social and emotional curriculum, coordinating services with outside mental health and social service agencies, as well as working directly with students and families.

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Views expressed on the Women Change Worlds blog are those of the authors and do not represent the views of the Wellesley Centers for Women or Wellesley College nor have they been authorized or endorsed by Wellesley College.

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