By Candace Y.A. Montague
Most people in pop culture are familiar with the character Clareece ‘Precious’ Jones from the best-selling novel Push and movie Precious. For those who may not know, the story is about a young, black female growing up in the projects of New York in the early 80s. Precious, a high school dropout who is referred to an alternative program to obtain her GED, has an insurmountable wall facing her. Each brick represented a burden that is all too familiar in the black community. She was obese. She was illiterate. She lived with a sexually and physically abusive mother. Her transient father who sexually molested her gave her AIDS. Neighborhood kids perpetually teased her. Precious also delivered two children into the world from her father. One is born with Down Syndrome. Precious lacks the resources or the wherewithal to sustain this life let alone escape it. But that was in the 80s. If she were here today, she could have a plethora of opportunities to redeem herself and make her world tolerable. If only some of the possibilities of last year’s health decisions turned out differently. If Precious was here now her life could be literally saved. Let’s look at some of the breakthroughs in health from 2011 that could possibly impact women’s health in 2012 if they are fought for by advocates and the community.
The Attack on Planned Parenthood Funding
This was a brutal battle between conservative Republicans and Democrats last year. Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) introduced an amendment to a bill that would cut funding for Planned Parenthood so that they could not provide abortions. Pence said why should taxpayers foot the bill for abortions.
“Nobody is saying Planned Parenthood can't be the leading advocate of abortion on demand, but why do I have to pay for it?" Pence said.
The reality is that Planned Parenthood is not allowed to use federally funded Title X dollars for abortions. The organization provides more than abortions. In fact, abortion only counts for 3 percent of its services. http://www.factcheck.org/2011/04/planned-parenthood/
Their services also allow women from low-income backgrounds to get regular health and Ob-Gyn check ups, family planning services and life saving breast cancer screenings. Think of how Planned Parenthood could have helped Precious Jones with prenatal care or provide a place where she could see a doctor regularly to work with her on her weight and healthy issues.
The Discontinuation of the VOICE Trial
This one has been quite a rollercoaster. In 2010, South African scientists at the International AIDS Conference in Vienna introduced stunning results about a vaginal gel. This gel containing Tenofovir came from the CAPRISA Research Center in Durban was proven to reduce the transmission on HIV, the virus that causes AIDS by at least. Not only did that gel reduce transmission of HIV by 39 percent it also reduced the chance of contracting Herpes by half. Herpes Simplex Virus 2 results in a cold sore of sorts along genitalia. That sore can be a portal to which HIV can be transmitted putting women at a higher risk of infection.
Precious didn’t have a say in her sexual abuse. And she certainly wasn’t able to tell her father to use a condom. If Precious had the possibility of using that gel before and after sex with her father, she may have avoided the virus entirely and saved her own life. The pressure must be put on to continue researching this option for women.
Plan B Staying Behind the Counter
Plan B is the ‘little pill that could’ for many women around the country who face regret after sex. It has been deemed safe to use by the FDA for children as young as 11 years old. It works by blocking ovulation like the birth control pill does and is the most effective when taken as soon as possible. After some volleying between the FDA and reproductive rights activists about making it available over the counter, the activists won and Plan B hit the shelves in front of the pharmacy counter. This year Kathleeen Sebellius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, reversed the decision to make it available over the counter. If girls under the age of 17 wish to purchase it, they will need a prescription from a doctor to do so. Would Precious have enough courage to ask her mother to take her to the doctor for a prescription after having sex with her father? Would her mother think to take her to the clinic after allowing the man she was supposedly married to impregnate their child? Teen pregnancy rates for blacks girls remain high (around 60 percent) and the high school graduation rate for teen mothers hovers around 50 percent. Not to mention getting pregnant during the adolescent years increases a girls chance to be unemployed, incarcerated, and/or contract HIV.
Precious Jones is not here. But her descendants are. They exist in many pockets of the country where policy makers and weary activists have long since turned a blind eye and deaf ear. But they need to turn back. And they need to help. Teen mothers and HIV positive people country billions of dollars every year and tear anchor the progress our country is making towards a healthier nation. In 2012, women must not let up on these issues. Keep the pressure on. It is high time for people to see that efficient and effective women’s health care is a priority not a possibility.
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Candace Y.A. Montague is a freelance writer in DC. She is the DC HIV/AIDS Examiner for Examiner.com/dc.
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