Looking for Leaders: Grassroots Groups Push for Teen Pregnancy Prevention in Colorado

Lori Casillas

Policy change realized in Colorado's sex education law is due in large part to the efforts of grassroots communities demanding safety nets for our youth and communities.

Today is the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, as
perfect a time as ever to call on leaders in education, health, and politics to
stand up and affirm that effective and comprehensive reproductive health
services and education are integral to the healthy development of our youth.
Communities that have channels to address their fears, needs, and desires about
the most personal aspects of the youth among them must have leaders who help
start this conversation and assist with finding solutions to those concerns in
meaningful and sustainable ways.

In Colorado, inroads have been made for supporting the
reproductive health of our young people. Advocates have safeguarded
science-based comprehensive sex education in the state’s law.  Although this law is not a mandate, it does
require that if schools provide instruction on human sexuality, the content
must be comprehensive and science-based emphasizing both "abstinence and the
potential risks and benefits of condoms and contraception."  Like many new laws, the difference between
legal doctrine and actual implementation (e.g. compliance) remain a challenge
in some communities in the state.  However, this legislation has in fact made a
difference in many school districts that want to do the right thing – not only
for the sake of the law, but for the sake of the lives of the young people who need
fact-based information critical to their health and lives.  Furthermore, these laws support what the
majority of parents support – messages and education that emphasize both
delaying sex as well as complete information to allow sexually active youth to
remain safe and healthy and to prevent unplanned pregnancy.

Policy change like the changes realized in Colorado’s sex
education law happens due in great deal to the efforts of grassroots
communities demanding laws and safety-nets for our youth and communities.  But without the leadership of those who make
and influence policy, the uphill struggle would be much harder.  When it comes to reproductive health and
youth, it’s really hard to find those leaders. 
Elected leaders and educators are often jaded by the disrupting voices
of the few who object to giving young people access to accurate and complete
information about their sexual health. 
The "s" word causes great anxiety among people in positions of power and
they often retreat rather than vocally affirm what the majority of their
constituents and communities around them support.

The difference in sustainable community change can come from
having unapologetic leaders in all fields – including public health and
education – stand up for the reproductive health of youth and recognize
publicly that these issues are integral to the health and wellbeing of our youth.  These leaders have demonstrated that sexual
health for young people is not a wedge issue but is instead about promoting "whole
approaches" to young people and listening to the concerns, fears, and desires
of communities who wish to raise a generation of informed and healthy
children.  

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It’s alarming how often teen pregnancy prevention is left
out of the conversation related to reducing the achievement gap and improving
graduation rates.  With so much talk of
what research and science says about what works in education, educational
"experts" continue to leave out of the conversation what works to prevent early
pregnancy among our youth – a leading cause young women report for leaving high
school before graduation. 

I’m certainly not suggesting that these "grass-top" leaders
are the one and only answer for making the reproductive health of youth a part
of a community’s platform.  I would argue
that the solutions must come directly from communities.  What these leaders possess is the ability to
make policy, direct resources, and influence other "grass-tops" to make the
issue a public part of the conversation and move away from the idea that the
"s" word had nothing to do with young people or our communities.

State Representative Nancy Todd – Present!  She led the effort to pass House Bill 1292,
Colorado’s comprehensive science-based sex ed bill in 2007.  As a former educator, she saw firsthand, the
impact of unplanned pregnancy on the lives of students and the families she
worked with. This bill was a major accomplishment of her first term in office.   Representative Todd stood boldly behind her
bill as hundreds stood and watched heated debates over the bill during
committee hearings.  Representative Todd
also has been the legislative sponsor for two years in a row of Colorado
Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Parenting, and Prevention’s (COAPPP)
Youth Action Day at the Colorado Capitol where youth meet with their
legislators to discuss teen pregnancy and adolescent reproductive health.

Dr. Christine Nevin-Woods – Present!  As the Director of the Pueblo City-County
Health Department she has made teen pregnancy prevention a hallmark of the
public health priorities in the community of Pueblo, Colorado.  Along with her expertise and unrepentant
approach to ensuring that youth in her community are served through public
health programs, Dr. Nevin-Woods is a champion for effective ways to support
positive decision-making and access to sexuality education for Pueblo’s
youth.  As a Colorado State Board of
Health member, she also led the adoption of a teen pregnancy prevention
resolution this year by the Board of Health.

Leaders, today we’re calling on you to stand up and learn
about how the reproductive health of our youth impacts all aspects of their
lives.   You’ll see that there’s nothing
wedge about reproductive health of our youth and the majority of communities
who support positive and proven approaches to prevent teen pregnancy.  Are you on board?

News Law and Policy

Three Crisis Pregnancy Centers Served for Breaking California Law

Nicole Knight Shine

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act.

The Los Angeles City Attorney is warning three area fake clinics, commonly known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), that they’re breaking a new state reproductive disclosure law and could face fines of $500 if they don’t comply.

The notices of violation issued this month mark the first time authorities anywhere in the state are enforcing the seven-month-old Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency (FACT) Act, advocates and the state Attorney General’s office indicate.

The office of City Attorney Mike Feuer served the notices on July 15 and July 18 to two unlicensed and one licensed clinic, a representative from the office told Rewire. The Los Angeles area facilities are Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

The law requires the state’s licensed pregnancy-related centers to display a brief statement with a number to call for access to free and low-cost birth control and abortion care, and for unlicensed centers to disclose that they are not medical facilities.

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“Our investigation revealed,” one of the letters from the city attorney warns, “that your facility failed to post the required onsite notice anywhere at your facility and that your facility failed to distribute the required notice either through a printed document or digitally.”

The centers have 30 days from the date of the letter to comply or face a $500 fine for an initial offense and $1,000 for subsequent violations.

“I think this is the first instance of a city attorney or any other authority enforcing the FACT Act, and we really admire City Attorney Mike Feuer for taking the lead,” Amy Everitt, state director of NARAL Pro-Choice California, told Rewire on Wednesday.

Feuer in May unveiled a campaign to crack down on violators, announcing that his office was “not going to wait” amid reports that some jurisdictions had chosen not to enforce the law while five separate court challenges brought by multiple fake clinics are pending.

Federal and state courts have denied requests to temporarily block the law, although appeals are pending before U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

In April, Rebecca Plevin of the local NPR affiliate KPCC found that six of eight area fake clinics were defying the FACT Act.

Although firm numbers are hard to come by, around 25 fake clinics, or CPCs, operate in Los Angeles County, according to estimates from a representative of NARAL Pro-Choice California. There are upwards of 1,200 CPCs across the country, according to their own accounting.

Last week, Rewire paid visits to the three violators: Harbor Pregnancy Help Center, Los Angeles Pregnancy Services, and Pregnancy Counseling Center.

Christie Kwan, a nurse manager at Pregnancy Counseling Center, declined to discuss the clinic’s noncompliance, but described their opposition to the state law as a “First Amendment concern.”

All three centers referred questions to their legal counsel, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an Arizona-based nonprofit and frequent defender of discriminatory “religious liberty” laws.

Matt Bowman, senior counsel with ADF, said in an email to Rewire that forcing faith-based clinics to “communicate messages or promote ideas they disagree with, especially on life-and-death issues like abortion,” violates their “core beliefs” and threatens their free speech rights.

“The First Amendment protects all Americans, including pro-life people, from being targeted by a government conspiring with pro-abortion activists,” Bowman said.

Rewire found that some clinics are following the law. Claris Health, which was contacted as part of Feuer’s enforcement campaign in May, includes the public notice with patient intake forms, where it’s translated into more than a dozen languages, CEO Talitha Phillips said in an email to Rewire.

Open Arms Pregnancy Center in the San Fernando Valley has posted the public notice in the waiting room.

“To us, it’s a non-issue,” Debi Harvey, the center’s executive director, told Rewire. “We don’t provide abortion, we’re an abortion-alternative organization, we’re very clear on that. But we educate on all options.”

Even so, reports of deceit by 91 percent of fake clinics surveyed by NARAL Pro-Choice California helped spur the passage of the FACT Act last October. Until recently, a person who Googled “abortion clinic” might be directed to a fake clinic, or CPC.

Oakland last week became the second U.S. city to ban false advertising by facilities that city leaders described as “fronts for anti-abortion activists.” San Francisco passed a similar ordinance in 2011.

News Human Rights

Feds Prep for Second Mass Deportation of Asylum Seekers in Three Months

Tina Vasquez

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force fed.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), for the second time in three months, will conduct a mass deportation of at least four dozen South Asian asylum seekers.

Those asylum seekers include Mahbubur Rahman, the leader of #FreedomGiving, the nationwide hunger strike that spanned nine detention centers last year and ended when an Alabama judge ordered one of the hunger strikers to be force-fed.

Rahman’s case is moving quickly. The asylum seeker had an emergency stay pending with the immigration appeals court, but on Monday morning, Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), a New York-based organization of youth and low-wage South Asian immigrant workers, told Rewire that an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer called Rahman’s attorney saying Rahman would be deported within 48 hours. As of 4 p.m. Monday, Rahman’s attorney told Ahmed that Rahman was on a plane to be deported.

As of Monday afternoon, Rahman’s emergency stay was granted while his appeal was still pending, which meant he wouldn’t be deported until the appeal decision. Ahmed told Rewire earlier Monday that an appeal decision could come at any moment, and concerns about the process, and Rahman’s case, remain.

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An online petition was created in hopes of saving Rahman from deportation.

ICE has yet to confirm that a mass deportation of South Asian asylum seekers is set to take place this week. Katherine Weathers, a visitor volunteer with the Etowah Visitation Project, an organization that enables community members to visit with men in detention at the Etowah County Detention Center in Gadsden, Alabama, told Rewire that last week eight South Asian men were moved from Etowah to Louisiana, the same transfer route made in April when 85 mostly Muslim South Asian asylum seekers were deported.

One of the men in detention told Weathers that an ICE officer said to him a “mass deportation was being arranged.” The South Asian asylum seeker who contacted Weathers lived in the United States for more than 20 years before being detained. He said he would call her Monday morning if he wasn’t transferred out of Etowah for deportation. He never called.

In the weeks following the mass deportation in April, it was alleged by the deported South Asian migrants that ICE forcefully placed them in “body bags” and that officers shocked them with Tasers. DRUM has been in touch with some of the Bangladeshis who were deported. Ahmed said many returned to Bangladesh, but there were others who remain in hiding.

“There are a few of them [who were deported] who despite being in Bangladesh for three months, have not returned to their homes because their homes keep getting visited by police or intelligence,” Ahmed said.

The Bangladeshi men escaped to the United States because of their affiliations and activities with the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the opposition party in Bangladesh, as Rewire reported in April. Being affiliated with this party, advocates said, has made them targets of the Bangladesh Awami League, the country’s governing party.

DHS last year adopted the position that BNP, the second largest political party in Bangladesh, is an “undesignated ‘Tier III’ terrorist organization” and that members of the BNP are ineligible for asylum or withholding of removal due to alleged engagement in terrorist activities. It is unclear how many of the estimated four dozen men who will be deported this week are from Bangladesh.

Ahmed said that mass deportations of a particular group are not unusual. When there are many migrants from the same country who are going to be deported, DHS arranges large charter flights. However, South Asian asylum seekers appear to be targeted in a different way. After two years in detention, the four dozen men set to be deported have been denied due process for their asylum requests, according to Ahmed.

“South Asians are coming here and being locked in detention for indefinite periods and the ability for anybody, but especially smaller communities, to win their asylum cases while inside detention is nearly impossible,” Ahmed told Rewire. “South Asians also continue to get the highest bond amounts, from $20,000 to $50,000. All of this prevents them from being able to properly present their asylum cases. The fact that those who have been deported back to Bangladesh are still afraid to go back to their homes proves that they were in the United States because they feared for their safety. They don’t get a chance to properly file their cases while in detention.”

Winning an asylum claim while in detention is rare. Access to legal counsel is limited inside detention centers, which are often in remote, rural areas.

As the Tahirih Justice Center reported, attorneys face “enormous hurdles in representing their clients, such as difficulty communicating regularly, prohibitions on meeting with and accompanying clients to appointments with immigration officials, restrictions on the use of office equipment in client meetings, and other difficulties would not exist if refugees were free to attend meetings in attorneys’ offices.”

“I worry about the situation they’re returning to and how they fear for their lives,” Ahmed said. “They’ve been identified by the government they were trying to escape and because of their participation in the hunger strike, they are believed to have dishonored their country. These men fear for their lives.”