Reproductive Justice & Violence: Issues & Needs

Issues & Needs — By on February 1, 2011 11:58 pm

In our background research, and July 2010 Roundtable discussion, we identified the following needs, issues and opportunities for collaboration.


  • Hormone access is a big need for young women and is often unmet. Providers have legal concerns because they believe that people under 18 years old should not be able to access these types of medications. There is also the prevalence of transphobia among service providers.
  • Support for young mothers that is not punitive and exists outside the child welfare system.
  • Many young women cannot access healthcare for a variety of reasons (lack of insurance, lack of financial resources, stigma for having multiple sex partners).
  • Young women need to know how to take care of their own health needs. They need access to accurate self-care information and access to information about how to take care of themselves without medical providers. They also need better information about when they do need to get professional medical care.
  • Young women need to have better and accurate information about the health impact of using women’s hygiene products. There is some research that suggests that some tampons and pads might have a link to cancer. Additionally, young women need to be educated about the negative impact of douching. They need access to alternative hygiene products. Many pharmaceutical companies have co-opted women’s health. This needs to be exposed.
  • Peer education needs to be emphasized and supported through funding.
  • Abortion is a safe and legal procedure but often difficult to access. Several abortion providers are located in Chicagoland whereas clinics are less accessible in other parts of the state. Nationwide, 87 percent of counties do not have an abortion provider. Public funding for abortion is a huge unmet need, forcing low-income young women to carry pregnancies toterm or scrape together money for an abortion, which often leads to later second-trimester abortions. The 1967 Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funding for abortion except in the cases of rape, incest, or a woman’s health being at risk.
  • Sexually transmitted screening and comprehensive sex education are also unmet needs for many. Girls and young women are disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS and other STIs because of biological and socioeconomic factors. Nationally, one in four adolescent females has an STI. More accessible, routine testing for sexually active girls and young women and universal, age-appropriate, comprehensive sex ed for all adolescents are unmet needs.
  • The biggest unmet need for immigrant women and girls is access to services. When you are undocumented, or waiting for your actual papers, there is no access to women’s health services. This is a major problem because many immigrants come from countries where they have NEVER seen a doctor in their life.    Also, many medical professionals are not trained in the specific cultural or religious nuances when it comes to Reproductive health, i.e. concerns about having a male doctor, taboos around contraception, female genital mutilation practices, sex selection, and how domestic violence plays into reproductive choices.


ABORTION RIGHTS: Recently the U.S. Court of Appeals dissolved the injunction on the 1995 Illinois Parental Notice of Abortion Act. As a result of this action, abortion providers are legally bound to give at least 48 hours notice to an adult family member of any young woman under the age of 18 seeking to terminate her pregnancy. As Soo Ji Min, former executive director of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health wrote in the Chicago Sun Times:

“Rather than continuing to restrict health options for adolescent women, we should focus on ensuring that all youth have access to the information and reproductive health care they need and deserve (August 8, 2009).”

The Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health has developed a handout with more information about Parental Involvement for Abortion Laws.

ABSTINENCE-ONLY EDUCATION: Guidance on the teaching of sexual health education in Illinois is provided by two laws: the Illinois School Code regarding Sex Education (105 ICLS 5/27_9.1) and the Critical Health Problems and Comprehensive Health Education Act (105 ICLS 110/). The state does not require sex education for students. If it is taught, sexuality education must “emphasize abstinence until marriage” even though nearly half of female high school students in Illinois report already having had sex. Lessons must also stress possible “emotional and psychological consequences” of premarital sex and teach “honor and respect for monogamous heterosexual marriage.” Students must be taught that abstinence is the only 100% effective method of protection against unwanted pregnancy and STDs, including AIDS (see ICAH Fact Sheet, January 2008).
Abstinence-only programs have been shown to be particularly harmful to women and girls and communities of color. According to a report titled Sex, Lies, & Stereotypes,

“females disproportionately suffer the consequences of unprotected sexual activity, including STIs and unplanned pregnancies. These programs also contain harmful and outdated gender stereotypes that place women as the gatekeepers of aggressive male sexuality. The gender bias perpetuated by abstinence-only programs not only has tangible, negative effects on the physical health and psychological well-being of young women, but also undermines social ideals of gender equality. For women of color, the absence of accurate sexual health information is particularly damaging given the high rates of HIV infection in their communities, while the gender stereotypes promoted by the programs exacerbate racial as well as sexual inequalities. Finally, abstinence-only programs violate women and girls’ human rights.”

Illinois is a national leader in the abstinence-only industry with five organizations each receiving nearly $800,000 from federal Community Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) grants. Overall, more than $7 million in abstinence-only money pours into Illinois from the federal government. Furthermore, Illinois was home to Project Reality, one of the largest abstinence-only curriculum developers, training centers, and service providers.

STI/HIV/AIDS PREVENTION: Illinois is the only state in which HIV positive high school students must notify their principal, who can then share the information with other school personnel as he or she sees fit. An attempt to repeal this law failed in 2008. Illinois requires HIV prevention education for grades 6-12.


In an article entitled “How Can Sex Ed Prevent Rape?“, Heather Corrina writes:

“I’m of the mind that one of the many fantastic things comprehensive, inclusive and progressive sexuality education of care and quality can offer the world and everyone in it is the possibility or actuality of decreasing and disabling rape and much of what enables and perpetuates rape. I also think good sex education has the capability of helping survivors of rape and abuse heal and feel supported and empowered. I care about this aspect of sex education a lot, both as a survivor of abuse and assault myself, as someone who advocates for and supports many other survivors and as someone who simply really wants for all of us to be able to live in a world without rape and other kinds of abuse.”

Teen dating violence curricula often lack a clear articulation of sexual desire and a “discourse of female pleasure without penalties.” Lynn Phillips (2000) offers the following warning: “Young women appear unable to name their own victimization precisely because their cultural contexts make it so difficult to insist on male accountability and to envision and experience hetero-relational pleasure without penalties (p.191).” Lynn Phillips and Deborah Tolman have both written about these issues in Flirting with Danger: Young Women’s Reflections on Sexuality and Domination (2000) and Dilemmas of Desire: Teenage Girls Talk about Sexuality (2002) respectively. For these and many other reasons, it would seem that girls in Chicago would have a lot to gain if teen dating violence prevention educators and sex educators could collaborate to offer a comprehensive message about healthy relationships.

In fact, the Population Council, an international NGO, has already provided a wonderful template for such collaboration. They have developed a new publication called: “Guidelines and Activities for a Unified Approach to Sexuality, Gender, HIV and Human Rights.”