Abortion for Teens in Louisiana Will Be Decided at the Polls — But They Can’t Vote on Them (Originally Published in Teen Vogue)

Pro-choice capitol protest Photo by Jenny Holl

We here at JRNOLA are extremely pleased to announce that Isabella Brown was published today (11/1/19) in Teen Vogue. The following is that article, verbatim.

On May 15, protesters gathered at the Louisiana state capitol. They were clad in white shirts with messages expressing their indignation: “Just Laws or Outlaws,” and, “Stop Colonizing Our Bodies.” The protesters had one main message: stop regulating abortion.

The recent abortion bans affecting the South have drawn age-old lines in the sand — you either support the right to abortion or you don’t, which can often be interpreted to mean you’re a Democrat (with the exception of Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards) or a Republican. One such ban in Louisiana will go to the ballot box in early November 2020, asking voters to decide whether or not to add a clause to the state constitution, declaring that nothing in the document should be construed as protecting the right to abortion — setting the grounds to outlaw abortion in the state should Roe v. Wade be overturned. This vote will happen at about the same time that the Supreme Court is expected to decide whether Louisiana’s requirement that all abortion providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals, a regulation that severely limits the availability of abortion in the state. In the months leading up to these decisions, everyone’s going to want to know which side you’re on.

However, for one group, it won’t matter which side they’re on because their voices will not be heard in the local vote: teens younger than 18. Though they cannot vote on this ban, the one in Louisiana will have a particularly large impact on teens because they face an extreme disadvantage. The state’s lack of comprehensive sex education sets them up for failure from the start.

While abortion bans are concerning to many residents of Louisiana, some go as far as to say that the state of sex education is even more grave. Take Mandie Landry, a pro-choice lawyer who is running to represent District 91 in the Louisiana Legislature. “I think the lack of access to educate proper sex education and birth control at the moment is a bigger obstacle than abortion restrictions,” Landry said.

In 1993, the Louisiana legislature passed a law establishing how sex education would be taught. While the law does not necessarily prohibit more comprehensive forms of sex education, it heavily emphasizes abstinence as the main form of sex education that should be taught. Abstinence-based sex education has proven to be very ineffective, with one study showing that teens who receive abstinence-only education are more likely to become pregnant. The most recent data for Louisiana shows that 29 out of 1,000 girls between ages 15 and 19 will give birth, according to Power to Decide. This is significant compared to the national teen birth rate in this age range, which is about 18 girls per every 1,000.

“I think what’s so interesting about these anti-choice efforts is that if they truly wanted to reduce abortion, they would support comprehensive sex education in schools, access to contraceptives, and things that actually work to reduce unplanned pregnancy and abortion,” Jenny Holl, program manager at Women With A Vision, said.

Not every anti-choice program completely glosses over those things, though. According to Claire Seymour, high schooler and member of the Louisiana’s Right To Life group, that specific group’s program does discuss contraception on some level — just perhaps not in the way Holl would advocate for. While she says it doesn’t advocate for or against it because of religious beliefs, Seymour said information on contraception is given out. “We kind of just have a very unbiased conversation about contraception and people can take from it what they want,” Seymour said.