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Sunday Reflections: Reproductive Rights ARE Teen Issues


When I brought my teenage daughter into this world, I suffered from a horrific pregnancy ailment known as Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I would not, however, unfortunately know this fact until late into my second pregnancy, when I almost died. It was during this pregnancy that I stood at the edge of the abyss and looked death right in the eyes. It was also during this pregnancy that I learned that my baby was, in fact, already dying if not already dead. Unfortunately, because of a variety of laws that would have required me to wait a week to confirm that pregnancy was in fact no longer viable, I opted to have an abortion – which only required me to wait 24 hours – and save my life. There was a chance I could live another 24 hours, there was less of a chance that I would survive another week. I did the math, looked at my 4-year-old daughter and wondered what her life would be without a mother, and made a very hard by necessary decision for myself. I spent over a year being cared for my medical professionals to help fix some of the very real health issues created by that pregnancy.

I barely survived yet another pregnancy, which brought us the blessing of Thing 2. I was transferred into the care of a high risk ob/gyn who kept me alive by IVs and a medication cocktail that they give to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. I spent six months on bed rest and lost yet another year of my life to Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I can not ever get pregnant again as the chances that I will survive are quit negligible. It is imperative for me to never get pregnant again. Everyone in my house uses 3,000 forms of birth control to help make sure that I never get pregnant again and have to face life threatening complications. Pregnancy still kills women.

I am the proud mother to two young girls, one of which is a teenager. It is now known, thanks to scientific research, that Hyperemesis Gravidarum is genetic. So my beloved daughters live with the unfortunate knowledge that they, too, may suffer from Hyperemesis Gravidarum. It is imperative to their health and well being that they be able to have full bodily autonomy and be able to make their own health and reproductive decisions. They need access to affordable birth control. They need to be able to make the decision to end a pregnancy if it is killing them. And we are all too aware of how likely this is for them.

Upwards of 40% of teens will have sex in their teenage years. It doesn’t matter what adults think of this statistic or what adults want for teenagers, the fact is that many teens will and do have sex. Puberty begins around age 12, though earlier and later for many, and the body starts sending signals to their brains and sends hormones rushing through their bodies that make them think about sex – a lot. It’s new territory that they are trying to navigate and figure out. Even the teens that never have sex spend some time thinking about sex. Sex is just part of the teenage zeitgeist. Teenagers need access to accurate information about sex, sexuality, sexual health and more. They also need access to birth control and doctors that will help them make informed health decisions.

But reproductive health and access to birth control and, yes, even abortion isn’t just about sex. It’s about health. Many girls will have health issues related to their periods and reproductive organs and systems, and one way of helping them to deal with these health issues is by providing access to the correct birth control. Long periods, painful periods, endometriosis, PMDD – these are just a few of the very real health issues that women wrestle with that cause them to seek out birth control for reasons that have nothing to do with sex.

For my own personal reasons, I did not have sex until I was married in my early twenties. However, I started taking birth control in high school to help regulate a period that was causing me intense pain, profuse bleeding, and was greatly impacting my quality of life and my ability to function. As a teenager, I needed access to birth control for very real medical reasons. And I didn’t even know then about Hyperemesis Gravidarum and the impact it would have on my life.

Last week, Justice Kennedy retired from the Supreme Court, and those of us who support a woman’s bodily autonomy and a right to make her own medical decisions grew increasingly concerned. I come from a very religious background, I have a degree from a conservative Christian university in youth ministry. I am very aware of what certain parties think not only about abortion, but things like birth control and reproductive rights. I love a wide variety of single issue voters who are not even swayed by having watched me almost die. In fact, I have lost friends and family members who would rather have seen me die then support me in the decision to terminate a failing/failed pregnancy rather than die. I am all too aware of the perilous decisions that hang in the balance that effect a woman’s right to make informed health decisions.

But reproductive health and access to birth control isn’t just a health issue. It’s a religious freedom issue, because not all religions feel the same about birth control and abortion and they should have the right to exercise their religious beliefs. It’s an economic and class issue, because pregnancy, childbirth and child rearing are expensive endeavors that effect a woman’s professional growth and opportunities, earning power, and ability to support herself and her family. It’s a woman’s rights issue because some religions and some men want to use pregnancy as a means to keep women in a submissive and more “traditional” role as opposed to seeing them achieve equal rights with men. Reproductive rights is about far more then what happens inside a women’s uterus and it has far reaching impact on the future for each teen with a uterus.

I talk and tweet about reproductive rights issues frequently, because it has very personal implications for me, not just as a woman myself but as a parent to people with uteruses (uteri?). Also, as someone who advocate for teens, an average of 50% of which have uteruses, I care about reproductive rights. My personal beliefs and choices don’t matter when it comes to other people utersuses. Because I understand the challenges of pregnancy and parenthood, and the huge financial cost of both, I of course want teens to abstain from sex. But the reality is, many of them don’t. Many of them are being raised in families that have different views about teenage sex then I do, and I have to respect that as well. Whenever I talk about reproductive health and rights, I’m always called out and challenged. But here’s the deal: reproductive health and rights ARE in fact a teen issue. And just like every other issue, my job is to provide my patrons, my teens, access to a wide variety of correct, accurate and unbiased information to help teens make their own personal decisions about both sex and health.

And I will never stop advocating for a teens right to have access to correct information and to make their own decisions about their health and well being. I believe it is imperative for me as a teen advocate and information specialist to champion these rights for teens. And I don’t just do it because I feel that it is my professional duty (it is), a moral obligation (again, it is) or because I care about teens in general (I do), I do it also because I want my daughters to continue to have access to the tools and resources they need to control their own bodies, health, future and general well being. I want my daughters to live, and reproductive rights will help increase their odds.

Reproductive rights ARE teen issues.

Abortion in YA Literature: Beyond the Issues, a guest post by Hilary T. Smith

There have been many recent articles written suggesting that sex in YA literature is the last taboo. I, however, would argue that just as it is in the real world, abortion remains the last taboo in YA literature. Which isn’t surprising when you consider it is the last taboo in almost all of main stream media. Although statistics indicate that by the time they are 45 one in four women will have an abortion, you can probably count on both of your hands the number of tv shows, movies and books that mention abortion. Even fewer still where the main character not only considers an abortion but goes through with the procedure. But Hilary T. Smith has written one, a YA book where a teenager not only contemplates having an abortion, but follows through with the procedure. A Sense of the Infinite is not, however, a book about abortion. It is a book where a main character goes through the process of living her life and one of the vignettes of her life includes having an abortion. A Sense of the Infinite is, in fact, primarily about relationships and finding yourself. It also is about body image issues, sexual violence and consent, eating disorders, art, and trying to figure out what to do after you graduate high school. It’s about coming of age.

Here today to talk with us about issues in YA novels is author Hilary T. Smith . . .

senseoftheinfiniteOne of the most important processes that takes place during adolescence and young adulthood is developing a sense of compassion. Our parents all communicate biases to us, whether they intend to or not: “homeless people are bad” or “other races are scary” or “girls who do that are going to hell.” These biases can prepare us to react with contempt, horror, or hostility when we meet someone who belongs to one of these categories. But the freedom of adolescence also gives us an opportunity to grow beyond these biases and develop a sense of shared humanity instead.

A big part of this growth process can happen just by chance encounters with people you previously saw as “the other”—your first conversation with a homeless person, an ex-convict, a pole dancer, or a refugee. Or it can take place when friends and family members reveal things about themselves that force you to reconsider your judgements and decide that you can love a person who belongs to the forbidden category.

But if you don’t have these encounters—if you never spend a six-hour Greyhound ride chatting with a girl your age who just had an abortion, or share a Starbucks shift with a boy your religion told you to hate, or become best friends with a person who grew up in dramatically different circumstances than you—there’s a chance you’ll carry those biases into adulthood.

Books are one way of giving teens those encounters, and encouraging the resulting sense of compassion to flower.

For me, writing a novel with an abortion thread was not about presenting an “issue” to be debated, but about making the world a safer, saner, and more compassionate place for all readers. Books about abortion, mental illness, and similar topics are not only for readers who are experiencing these situations themselves; they help us all awaken to our shared humanity, and go forward with greater wisdom, gentleness, and love.


By the author of the critically acclaimed Wild Awake, a beautiful coming-of-age story about deep friendship, the weight of secrets, and the healing power of nature.

It’s senior year of high school, and Annabeth is ready—ready for everything she and her best friend, Noe, have been planning and dreaming. But there are some things Annabeth isn’t prepared for, like the constant presence of Noe’s new boyfriend. Like how her relationship with her mom is wearing and fraying. And like the way the secret she’s been keeping hidden deep inside her for years has started clawing at her insides, making it hard to eat or even breathe.

But most especially, she isn’t prepared to lose Noe.

For years, Noe has anchored Annabeth and set their joint path. Now Noe is drifting in another direction, making new plans and dreams that don’t involve Annabeth. Without Noe’s constant companionship, Annabeth’s world begins to crumble. But as a chain of events pulls Annabeth further and further away from Noe, she finds herself closer and closer to discovering who she’s really meant to be—with her best friend or without.

Hilary T. Smith’s second novel is a gorgeously written meditation on identity, loss, and the bonds of friendship.

Published May 19th by Katherine Tegen Books

Karen’s Thoughts:

A Sense of the Infinite is a true coming of age novel, there’s not a lot of plot but there is a lot of thinking and growing and figuring out who you are and where you fit into this world. It’s about friendship, finding it, losing it, and finding it again, though maybe with different people. It’s about mothers and daughters, this relationship complicated by the fact that Annabeth learns that she is a child born out of a college date rape. This news leaves Annabeth reeling with a sense of shame and insecurity that colors her entire view of self. It’s about love and hope and forgiveness. There is as we mentioned an abortion and it occurs without a lot of shame and guilt, a point of view we don’t often see in current discussions about abortion though statistics indicate that many people do in fact feel nothing but relief in terminating their unwanted or complicated pregnancies. It’s also about eating disorders, a subject that is handled well. But in the end, it’s really a moving portrait of Annabeth trying to find out who she really is and how she can move forward in ways after high school that will help her be happy and fulfilled. It’s a lot of heavy subject matter packed into the pages of a book, but in the end we find that Annabeth just might learn not only to love herself, but that she really is loved by the people around her. It is this look at relationships of all sorts that really make A Sense of the Infinite soar.

More Posts on Reproductive Rights at Teen Librarian Toolbox:

Take 5: Reproductive Rights in YA Literature

Abortion in YA Lit, Karen’s Take

Friday Finds – July 26, 2013

This week at TLT:

This week’s Sunday Reflections discusses the presence of violence in YA and why it’s important.

We have book reviews of:

Heather and Karen took a group of teens to the Simon Teen Tastemakers Event at ALA and offer ideas for reproducing the event for a teen program at your library.
Karen asked us to talk about the casual perpetuation of street harassment culture.
Karen discusses how YA literature addresses the issue of abortion. And Christie adds some important thoughts on the issue. We also have a list of 5 YA titles that address the topic to some degree, with additional suggestions in the comments.
Robin posted about her experience working with youth who live in poverty. Karen added a list of fantastic titles that depict teens living in poverty.

Commiserate with Heather in the comments section of her post on Program Fails.

Previously on TLT:
We reviewed Timepiece by Myra McEntire and Flesh & Bone by Jonathan Maberry.
Karen wrote about one of the daily realities for teens who live in poverty – going to bed hungry.
Around the web:
There is an important article by Jen Schradie over at The Society Pages on The 7 Myths of the Digital Divide.

You can read an excerpt of The Fall of Five, the next in the I Am Four series by Pittacus Lore at EW. 

There is also a cover reveal and excerpt of Enders, the sequel to Starters by Lissa Price over at EW.

YPULSE has an interesting look at why the show Catfish on MTV matters

What are you guys talking about this week?  Share with us in the comments.

VOYA Magazine released their Teen Pop-Culture Quiz #40.  How well do you know teen pop culture?  Take the quiz.

Take 5: Reproductive Rights in YA Lit

Today Christie and I are talking about Reproductive Rights and Abortion in YA literature.  Here is a list of 5 books where teens acknowledge that abortion exists in their world.  Some of them consider it and decide it is not the right option for them, and others do make the choice to terminate their pregnancy.  It is important that a wide variety of discussions and choices and reactions be represented because it reflects the real world, the world teens are living in and allows them to make more informed opinions and choices because it helps them develop a more complete picture.

Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen

“You can’t just plan a moment when things get back on track, just as you can’t plan the moment you lose your way in the first place.” 

Halley has always followed in the wake of her best friend, Scarlett. But when Scarlett learns that her boyfriend has been killed in a motorcycle accident, and that she’s carrying his baby, she’s devastated. For the first time ever, Scarlett really needs Halley. Their friendship may bend under the weight, but it’ll never break–because a true friendship is a promise you keep forever. (Goodreads)

Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles

“I stretch my fingers across my belly and glide my hand back and forth, waving softly. Sometimes I think I feel a hand reaching out for mine. Or it could be a foot, kicking my hand away. I wish I could tell the difference.” 

Ellie remembers how the boys kissed her. Touched her. How they begged for more. And when she gave it to them, she felt loved. For a while anyway. So when Josh, an eager virgin with a troubled home life, leads her from a party to the backseat of his van, Ellie follows. But their “one-time thing” is far from perfect: Ellie gets pregnant. Josh reacts with shame and heartbreak, while their confidantes, Caleb and Corinne, deal with their own complex swirl of emotions. No matter what Ellie chooses, all four teenagers will be forced to grow up a little faster as a result. Told alternately from each character’s point of view, this deeply insightful novel explores the aftershocks of the biggest decision of one fragile girl’s life — and the realities of leaving innocence behind. (Goodreads)

Six Rules of Maybe by Deb Caletti

 “A lot of life is just surviving what happens.” 

Scarlett Hughes is overly involved in the lives of everyone around her, and exceptionally interested in the habits of her neighbors. But Scarlett is thrust solidly into her own life when her sister, Juliet, returns home from school—pregnant and surprisingly married to a sweet, handsome man whom she seems to have no interest in, but who is hopelessly in love with her. Forced to take a look inward for the first time, Scarlett discovers the necessity of dreams, as well as the necessity of facing reality and speaking the truth. (Goodreads)

Unwind by Neal Shusterman

“In a perfect world everything would be either black or white, right or wrong, and everyone would know the difference. But this isn’t a perfect world. The problem is people who think it is.”

The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution: Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen. Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child “unwound,” whereby all of the child’s organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn’t technically end. Connor is too difficult for his parents to control. Risa, a ward of the state is not enough to be kept alive. And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound. Together, they may have a chance to escape and to survive. (Goodreads)

Dear Cassie by Lisa Burstein

 “Words aren’t magic,” Rawe said, “but talking, opening up can be.”

There’s the reason I was sent to Turning Pines in the first place: I got arrested. On prom night. With my two best friends, who I haven’t talked to since and probably never will again. And then there’s the real reason I was sent here. The thing I can’t talk about with the guy I can’t even think about. (Goodreads)

Do you know of other titles where the issues are discussed? Share with us in the comments.

Reproductive Rights in YA Lit: Christie’s Take

If you follow me on Twitter, you definitely know where I stand on this issue, and personally I am scared for where this country is headed. I realize that the issue is completely tied up to everyone’s personal beliefs, and I have close friends who fall on both sides of the lines- we just agree to disagree on this subject.

However, I know a lot of people across the country who feel the same way, who were activists before and after Roe vs Wade became law, and fear we’re headed down the same road as before abortion became legal, and access to women’s clinics (whether they perform abortions or not) were available to all. I do feel that the way “pro-life” is marketed is wrong- I feel that my viewpoints should be considered pro-life even though I consider abortion an option- just as I consider birth control an option, and federal and state care after birth options.

I remember the scene in Fast Times at Ridgemont High that Karen writes about, but that wasn’t the first movie I saw that deal with abortion. The first one I saw was the horrible botched abortion in Dirty Dancing, when abortion was illegal. I didn’t understand the whole situation, and I didn’t ask my parents about it (I didn’t see it in theaters, I saw it at a friend’s house a few years later)- instead, I went and researched it at the bigger city library nearby (no way could I go to the library in my small town- would everyone have gossip then, even if they would have had information about the subject). When I understood what was going on, and why it was going on, I thanked the powers that be (fill in whatever God/Goddess/Deity you like) that we (women) didn’t have to go through that now. That was when I decided I was going to be a feminist and an activist- I finally had a title to how I felt. However, I now have the scary feeling we’re headed backwards to that time.

Like Karen, I don’t know of any 11-15 year old ready to be a parent (boy or girl or inbetween), and like Karen, I have worked with teens in that age range who have had to deal with that issue.

In previous work experiences it was usually the girl alone who was having to deal with her parents and the decision as the boy was long gone or denying responsibility (and leading a campaign of slut shaming along with his *new* girlfriend), in my current one it has been more of a mix which I think is due to the culture more than anything else. However, they are still struggling with options, and to have one option taken away means that they are left with two: adoption (which while may be the best case has stigma attached in a lot of cultures) and keeping the baby (which may not be the best case for the child or parent/parents). This is why we have trends in libraries of grandparents as parents collections, and grandparents as parents programming- because adoption was not a viable option in anyone’s mind (for whatever reason) and the baby ended up with grandparents.

16 and Pregnant : MTV

We, as teen service specialists (which I use to encompass all of us who work with teens) are always advocating for books that reflect teen life- because teens turn to YA fiction to find themselves, and to help know that they are not alone. Abortion in YA fiction is a subject that is extremely hard to find, and needs to be written about more, in a compassionate way- not just in a sentence or two that it was a consideration before moving on to other options. When we have television shows that glorify and make stars of teen moms acting badly and abusing their kids (yes, I’m looking at you, MTV), and media that can’t honestly deal with the issue except on the margins we need a counterbalance somewhere.

Abortion in YA Lit, Karen’s Take

Young Adult literature tackles a wide variety of dark, heavy and yet all too real and controversial topics.  Drug use, rape, incest, cutting . . . You can find a variety of books that deal with these topics.  But there is one topic that you don’t see mentioned very often in YA lit: Reproductive Rights.  Even more specifically: Abortion.

This piece is not about abortion, but it is about abortion in YA lit.  I will not reveal where I stand on the issue, because my opinion doesn’t matter.  My job is to introduce teens to a wide variety of stories and let them decide for themselves.  And I recognize that it is a very controversial topic tied up in people’s personal religious beliefs, their knowledge of science, their views on women and personhood and so much more.  But there is no denying that it is a very relevant topic that today’s teen can not escape.  The news about abortion and the debate surrounding the issue is everywhere.  People stand outside clinics and statehouses with signs.  And because I believe it is an important issue in our current political climate, one that is not likely to go away, I feel that we owe it to our teens to have current and realistic information available to them so that they too can be an informed part of the discussion.  For many teens, what we decide today will have tremendous impact on their life and choices.  Not always in the distant future, but soon.

Because of the pregnancy illness that I suffered from, I know a handful of women who made the decision to terminate their pregnancies so that they could live another day and raise the children they had already given birth to.  And I have sat with a teen patron in the days after she decided to terminate her pregnancy at 20 weeks.  And I have read the news with horror of the little 11 year old girl in Chile who is waiting to give birth to a child that was fathered by her own father who raped her.  Many have said to the news that this 11 year old is ready and prepared to become a mother; but not just a mother, a mother to a child born to her from a father that has raped her.  I look over to my 11 year old daughter as I think about this and my heart aches for her.  I have spent 20 years working with 11 year olds and I can assure you that not a single one of them is prepared to become a mother.

I sometimes read books about teenage pregnancy and wonder where the discussion of abortion is.  Not even a teen deciding to have an abortion, but a teen who is pregnant taking a moment to even consider it, for a moment, as an option.  As a teen, my first knowledge of abortion came not from a book, but from the movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  I remember clearly that character played by Jennifer Jason Leigh going in to a clinic and ending her pregnancy alone, without her parents knowledge, without the boy who impregnated her.  It was her older brother who supported her through the experience.  This is an issue for teens, it always has been, and it may be an issue that they will deal with only with one another.  I was aware of abortion, but it had always been one of those taboo subjects that no one ever talked about except when we were talking politics.

So here is something I didn’t tell you when I reviewed Dear Cassie by Lisa Burstein because it hadn’t been released yet and it was a spoiler: Cassie has had an abortion.  As she lay at camp writing diary entries to herself she sometimes punches herself in the stomach.  This is because she has had an abortion and she is wrestling with how she feels about this fact afterwards.  It is a bold decision, telling the story of a girl who has made a choice that is so very controversial in our country.  And yet, it is a story that needs to be told because our teens sometimes make this choice and those teens deserve to have their stories told just as much as we advocate for diversity in young adult literature.  Diversity can mean diversity in choices.  As a reader, we don’t even have to agree with the choice.  That is not why we read.  No, we read to better understand the many different lives that occur in and around us in the vast, wide world we live in.

Cassie’s reaction to her abortion is interesting and complex.  She obviously feels tremendous confusion and sometimes guilt over the choices she has made.  And as a woman, I can’t help but think: of course she does.  She lives in a world that tells her everyday that people who choose abortions are murderers.  Even if she didn’t think this were true, it makes sense on some level that a teen who is still trying to figure out who they are and what they believe would have periods of times where she questioned the very real decisions that she made.  Abortion is not a black and white issue in the world we live, so it makes sense that a contingent of our teens wouldn’t see it as a black and white issue either.  The complexity of emotions that she has in response to her abortion mirrors the complexity of emotions we feel in the general public regarding the topic.

But Cassie’s experience with abortion is just that – one experience of abortion.  The ALAN Review wrote a thoughtful look at abortion in YA literature back in 1995, but at a time when our culture is grappling with this issue loudly and often, it seems that our YA lit is failing to reflect the current zeitgeist.  And this literature needs to reflect the variety of true experiences that teens have had with abortion.  Some, like the 14-year-old I used to work with, will sigh a breath of relief.  Others, like Cassie, will wreslte with confusion and guilt.  The literature we read doesn’t have to mirror our personal beliefs, it is supposed to open us up to other lives and other stories so that we can walk a moment in another’s pair of shoes and learn about lives and viewpoints that may differ from ours.

Additional Resources:
Adolescent Fiction on Abortion
The Future of Reproductive Rights as Seen in 3 YA Novels
Unwinding the Abortion Debate in Young Adult Literature
Adolescent Fiction on Abortion
Library Thing list of books tagged Abortion
What Does October 15th Mean for Teens?