It is essential that youth, both under the age of 18 and as young adults, have equal, quality access to the resources that would allow them to make decisions about their own reproductive and sexual health. Yet, this is not the case for many young people in Maryland. A lack of comprehensive and inclusive sex education, affordable forms of contraception, and access to family planning resources limit the ability for youth to exercise control over their futures. NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland aims to advance the reproductive rights and freedoms of all youth in our state. We have made progress in recent years to draw attention to improving the scope of sexual and reproductive healthcare in high school-based health centers (SBHCs), identifying the barriers students face when accessing emergency contraception, increasing public awareness of the deceptive practices of anti-choice Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) that target Maryland youth, and protecting the rights of pregnant and parenting students so they may realize their family formation and educational goals. We have begun investigating the unique challenges faced by youth experiencing homelessness ,as well as those within the foster care and juvenile justice systems, as accessing reproductive and sexual healthcare can prove difficult for these individuals.
In 2020, we have begun a project to collect information about the types of sexual health education being offered in our publicly-funded elementary and secondary schools. We anticipate producing a report, similar to ones done by the Texas Freedom Network, to encourage local and statewide initiatives and necessary education reform to meet the real needs of our youth. To see what the current requirements and guidelines are for sex education in Maryland, check out this great resources for SEICUS.
High school students face a number of obstacles when trying to access sexual and reproductive health services. With school-based healthcare centers (SBHCs) becoming an important healthcare source for an increasing number of our youth, we released a report in 2018, Could We Do More? The Argument for Inclusive Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare in School-Based Health Centers, detailing the need for comprehensive and inclusive reproductive healthcare and education in Maryland schools. We hope to build on this research to advocate for more SBHCS to include sexual and reproductive healthcare in the scope of services offered in secondary schools fortunate enough to have wellness centers on their campuses.
We have also been focusing on the rights of pregnant and parenting high school students. Harassment of or discrimination against a pregnant student is considered a violation of federal law under Title IX. Here is a great infographic poster from Healthy Teen Network about the rights of pregnant students under Title IX. In 2015, we began a policy research project that led to the 2017 passage of HB616, the second bill in the nation to clarify and define excused absences for legal and medical reasons for pregnant and parenting public school students in the effort to stop Title IX violations by faculty, staff, and administrators. We are now asking Maryland students if they are aware of this newly enacted legislation and to identify other barriers to education and parenting success, particularly challenges to pumping and storing breast milk at school, and authentic access to childcare and transportation. If you are a pregnant or parenting student, please follow this link to take our survey on your experiences. If you know, work with, or are an ally to any pregnant or parenting students, please follow this link to take our survey. We are currently collecting responses and appreciate all contributions. This research will inform our future policy work as we continue to advocate for reproductive health and freedom for all young people. To build on these efforts, HB1298/SB0791 was introduced in 2020, requiring secondary school personnel to coordinate supports needed to help PEPS stay in school and prevent school push-out, while requiring school districts to collect data on the educational outcomes of these youth to identify areas in need of reform.
We anticipating introducing this legislation again in 2021.Additionally, a new resource, The Rights of Pregnant Youth in Maryland, is now available for pregnant and parenting youth who may have questions or concerns regarding issues they may face in forming and protecting themselves and their new families.
In colleges, we are seeking to help student groups increase the scope of sexual and reproductive healthcare in college-based health and wellness centers and began our efforts in 2016 by focusing on students gaining more timely access to emergency contraception (EC) on campus. Those seeking EC off-campus also often find it difficult to obtain, as detailed in the 2017 report, What’s Your “Plan C” When You Can’t Get Plan B? A Study by NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland Fund. Our policy research and organizing efforts led to the 2017 introduction of the first statewide bill (HB1205) in the nation requiring public universities to offer students 24/7 access to over-the-counter emergency contraception. Through a successful campaign, students and staff helped University of Maryland College Park to become the first campus in the state to offer EC at their 24-hour convenience stores in Fall 2018. We anticipate advocating for the same legislation again in the Maryland General Assembly. Meanwhile, we have factsheets that can help with student organizing as well as a campus organizing guide and corresponding PowerPoint.
While identifying the barriers to youths’ reproductive freedom on campus, we have also focused on the dangers outside of education spaces. Of particular concern are anti-choice Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs). CPCs not only target students, but vulnerable youth across the state of Maryland. In an investigative report published by NARAL Pro-Choice Maryland Fund (NPCMF) in May 2018, CPCs were found to use a variety of deceptive tactics and provided individuals seeking reproductive or abortion care with medically inaccurate information for the purpose of discouraging abortion as a pregnancy outcome option, as well as access to emergency contraception as it is portrayed as an abortifacient.
As issues facing Maryland’s youth continue to evolve, so do our efforts to guarantee their reproductive freedom. If you are passionate about working to advance the reproductive rights of Maryland youth or are interested in discussing future collaboration on these and other projects, contact our team at firstname.lastname@example.org