An ounce of prevention

Petula Dvorak
Columnist April 2, 2012

Demonstrators standing outside women’s clinics protesting abortion, meet Christina Ramos.

And Charnisa Royster. And Lateaisha Brooks. And about a dozen others.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

They are actually doing what you say you want: They are stopping abortions.

How?

They’re not waving graphic signs at school children or stalking doctors and nurses and landlords and even the paper towel vendors at women’s clinics.

That’s what some of the folks have been doing at the Germantown clinic of LeRoy Carhart, who is one of the few doctors in the United States who openly speaks about performing late-term abortions.

To try and stop the abortions that he performs, protesters have gone beyond the usual prayer vigils outside his clinic. They recently turned their focus on Carhart’s landlord, Todd Stave, and targeted his daughter’s middle school, his neighborhood and even his brother-in-law’s dental office in Rockville.

Stave fought back with a clever campaign that I wrote about last week to get friends and supporters to call the particularly invasive protesters at their homes. In calm and kind tones, Stave supporters thanked the anti-choice protesters for their prayers, but said they wouldn’t be closing down the clinic.

The response to Stave’s campaign — which resulted in thousands of calls to a single protester’s home — was huge. Last week, folks who read the column volunteered to join Stave’s phone army by the thousands. He also got thousands of dollars in donations.

Some readers pointed out that Stave’s tactic isn’t any better than those of the folks who waved photos of mangled fetuses in front of a school and flooded his home with calls.

Folks said it just makes both sides bullies.

That’s why it’s a great time to look at the kind of work done by people like Ramos and her volunteers with the Young Women’s Project in the District.

They are counselors who go into D.C. schools every day to talk to kids at risk for unwanted pregnancies, to educate, to counsel and to help.

Ramos is the manager who works with a group of about 16 teens who are trained by a U.S. Department of Health program to go into schools and counsel students on sex.

And it’s way more than handing out condoms. They bust myths: “No, you will not prevent pregnancy by drinking Mountain Dew after sex,” and “No, two condoms (called double-bagging) won’t work,” and, by the way, “No, you don’t have to have sex!”

Sure, some folks say abstinence is the only answer.

“But guess what? Teens are having sex,” Ramos said. They always have.

And the problems go beyond peer pressure about going past third base.

One of the high schools they are trying to work with just announced nine new cases of HIV-positive students.

“And at some of these schools, there’s this feeling that it’s cool to be pregnant, it’s an initiation or ritual. It’s a right of passage,” said Ramos, who overheard two girls in a hallway talking about how proud one was about being pregnant.

One of her 15-year-old counselors came to a session the other day a little depressed because there was a photo making the rounds of her Facebook friends that showed five or six girls, each about 15 years old, posing in a high school bathroom, all pregnant and smiling — glowing, even.

That is the beginning of a whole cycle of social woes.

Abortion is not the answer, but education, prevention and intervention are.

“I was never taught in school during class hours about what will happen,” wrote 17-year-old Charnisa Royster in her testimony to the D.C. Council’s Committee on Health, which she will give this week.

Royster is now a freshman at American Beauty Academy and has been working for the past three years as a peer educator and counselor.

Lateaisha Brooks is a 16-year-old junior at Woodrow Wilson High School, working with an after-school program counseling teens. She is assessing the work of other programs, getting herself certified as an educator and spending time between schoolwork and classes to help her peers prevent unwanted pregnancy.

The young women will be testifying before councilmember David A. Catania (I-At Large) this week to lobby for more inclusion of their federally regulated counseling programs during D.C. school hours, and their testimony may ultimately affect the upcoming city budget.

“These remarkable young women are having a real and substantive impact on how we as a city approach the issues of sexual health and disease prevention for District teens,” Catania said. “They are taking action, educating their peers and informing the public policy process in a way that will benefit the thousands of District youth trying to make their way through today’s complicated world. They are role models for their fellow young people and an inspiration to me.”

Amen.

Please take note, antiabortion folks. This is how you do the real work of preventing abortion. Not with a placard outside a dental office.

To read previous columns by Petula Dvorak, go to washingtonpost.com/
dvorak.

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