I am a pharmacy student at UCSD and if you would have told me one year ago that I would be spending my summer advocating for adolescent reproductive health I probably would have laughed.
My Conservative Background
You see, I was born and raised in the central valley in California, in a conservative community, in a conservative Christian home. I was raised to value human life, including the unborn. You could (and should) call me pro-life. However, during the winter quarter of my first year in pharmacy school, Dr. Sally Rafie, PharmD gave us a lecture about emergency contraception that really impacted me. She shared some staggering statistics. You see, in the United States over 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. Of those unplanned pregnancies, 40% are going to end in abortion. That’s about 20% of all pregnancies in the U.S. But it was her next comment that really struck me and got me interested in this topic, “if we are ever going to decrease the number of abortions, we have to decrease the number of unplanned pregnancies.” That was a lightbulb moment for me.
Why I Care About Teens and Family Planning
This summer I have the privilege of doing a project with Dr. Rafie on pharmacists’ growing role in reproductive health services for adolescents. Teen pregnancy in the U.S. is at an all-time low of roughly 26 births per 1000 teens. Now this sounds like a pretty good statistic right? Less than 3% of teens are actually having babies every year (of course even more are getting pregnant)! Until you consider the fact that is one of the highest teen birth rates among developed countries and places like the Netherlands have only 5 births per 1000 teens. That means 5 times as many teens are having babies here in the United States. In the central valley where I grew up, our rates are well above the national average and some counties (like Tulare) nearly double it. Obviously what and how we are teaching our teens about and the access that they have to birth control services is not working.
Studies have repeatedly shown that increasing knowledge of and access to birth control methods and services does not increase the number of teens having sex or even how often or with how many people they have sex with. The only statistic that it affects is the number of teens having safe sex and the number of teen pregnancies and teen births. Studies have also revealed that abstinence-only education is ineffective in decreasing the number of teen pregnancies. When we as conservative Christians fight to implement abstinence-only educational programs in schools and limit teens’ access to information and birth control methods, we are contributing to the number of teen pregnancies, the number of abortions, and the number of teen parents and children in the foster system. That is not a statistic that I want to be a part of. Additionally, unless parents know for 100% sure that their child will be living a life of celibacy, family planning education will be valuable to them at some age even if they remain abstinent until marriage. It can also be helpful for teens to share information with their friends who could benefit from accurate knowledge about birth control.
What I’m Doing About It
A new law was passed in California that will allow pharmacists to provide hormonal birth control directly to patients in pharmacies regardless of age. My project this summer is focused on teen girls to see if this is a service that they are interested in and how pharmacies can serve them best. This project will be very important in helping pharmacists prepare to meet the needs of adolescents in their communities as this new program is rolled out.
If you have questions about any of the statistics I discussed or you just want to know more about my research please feel free to contact me. As you might have guessed, this is something that I feel very passionate about and I would love to discuss it with you more.
About the Author: Courtney Miller just finished her first year of pharmacy school at the University of California San Diego Skaggs School of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences. She is from the central valley which has the highest rates of teen pregnancy in California so this topic is very close to her heart!