The truth about sex ed from a pro-choice, pro-education, pro-health mama!

What follows is the text of the speech given by Minnesota NOW State Board member and longtime reproductive rights activist Kriss Hakala at the 2010 Pro-Choice Lobby day on March 4.

I’m 3rd Generation Pro-choice, a Daughter, a Sister, an Aunt, a Granddaughter, and a Mom from the Forest Lake School District. Today is a very important event, not only for us to get energized but especially for all of the UNPROTECTED kids here in Minnesota.  – !
This is my story as a parent, but more important, IT’S THE KIDS’ STORY AND I THANK THEM FOR THEIR PERMISSION TO TELL IT.  My boys are students in the Forest Lake School District, which is comprised of a lot of small towns.

In fifth grade my boys learned about AIDS and STIs.  Their assignment was to make an AIDS project and I was happy to help! However, when I suggested COLORED CONDOMS for Hunter’s MonopolAIDS GAME PIECES or the word CONDOM for one of the words for Jake’s crossword puzzle, both boys told me that they couldn’t use THAT WORD.  I was taken aback, but thought maybe in 8th grade it would be okay.  In 8th grade a note came home to opt out of sex education.  I was happy as I thought they would get the Real thing – comprehensive sex education – !

Well, in 8th grade, they separated the boys and girls and talked at them about anatomy, pregnancy, AIDS and STDs, but failed to talk about contraception, how to protect themselves, or about having healthy relationships.    I was sick as I knew from my sons and their friends that the teens were having sex; there were multiple pregnancies in the High School, not to mention the Junior High Schools.
A very popular teen couple told their story of an unintended pregnancy to the Forest Lake press.  Her Mom wouldn’t agree to birth control until she got straight A’s and was responsible enough to load the dishwasher.

(Editor’s note: read the story here and consider how the glowing spin on their story actually makes teen parenthood alluring–call it Bristol Palin syndrome.)
All along I had been discussing facts with my kids, giving them the information they needed to be safe and the information they could share with their friends, rather than the locker room talk that can get them into trouble.
But what about the kids I didn’t know or talk to?

I decided to take action.  I called the Superintendent to enlist his help in changing the growing statistics of pregnancies and STIs in our community.  He rejected my request. Next, I got educated from everyone and anyone who would talk to me; I bought hundreds of condoms, directions and fact sheets.  I got all of my help from the pro-choice community.
While it may be true that one person can’t change the world – I’ve set out to prove that ONE PERSON can make change a School District.
Forest Lake hired a new Superintendent, Dr. Linda Madsen, last fall.  I immediately contacted her with my concerns. She called me the next day, created a Curriculum Review Committee, and invited me to speak to all of the Health Teachers to give them every available resource and the reasons WHY our kids deserve comprehensive sex education.  The Committee will make recommendations early next year to the School Board.  Sigh of Relief – I had possibly made a difference.  I was fairly confident that I had done my job and was continuing to educate kids.
I WAS PRETTY PROUD OF MYSELF UNTIL …….. my son came home to tell me a very disturbing story.  Hunter is 16; he is sophomore and enrolled in “Health Class.”  He happened to have a guest speaker that day.  Her name was Kelly; she has a website called Solid Options and her curriculum is called “no touchy.”

She started class guaranteeing them that “after today none of you will be having sex.”  She than asked for a raise of hands – how many of you talk to your parents about sex? 10 kids raised their hands.  Then she asked: how many of you are comfortable talking to your parents about sex? 5 kept their hands raised.   The class continued on the dangers of AIDS and STIs and teen pregnancies but not about how to prevent them.

Kelly told the class that 2% of teens know how to use condoms.  Hunter raised his hand and asked her to show them.  She said THEY DON’T WORK ANYWAY.  (Editor’s note: Kelly, if you’re reading, try getting the facts at Planned Parenthood.) She continued to say that girls should never touch a boy’s JUNK, because you won’t know what will happen.  If you are making out, say TURNIP.

TURNIP, according to Kelly, is a safe word.  What happened to NO?
This is why we need evidence-based sex ed:

  • To help kids prevent STIs by using condoms properly
  • To build healthy relationships so kids can avoid unwanted sexual experiences
  • To help protect our kids instead of treating them like they are too young or dumb to understand things

We have the same end result in mind–we only differ on the means.  We care about the health of our kids. We want them safe, free from disease and harm, and educated so that they make responsible decisions.  But we need to educate our kids using medically accurate facts and in a non-judgmental way rather than through distortions and moral judgment.
I am lucky enough to have the support of many organizations that help me get accurate facts and I’m ok with talking in a frank manner with my kids, but not everyone has the same network I do, and not everyone is ok with having these hard conversations with their kids.   This is why we need schools to be prepared with facts and no judgment, so our kids can get FACTS that will protect them.
I have experienced firsthand the impact when teens don’t receive comprehensive, medically accurate and objective information about preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.  Ignorance is not bliss, and the research is clear: Informing young people about these topics does not make them have sex.  In fact, evidence- based Sex Education has been proven to be effective in delaying the onset of sexual activity and increasing responsible contraceptive use among sexually active teens. Abstinence-only education has not.
I WILL NOT ACCEPT that our students shouldn’t have comprehensive sex education.  This is what I WANT:
1)    Each and every one of us has to do our part to EDUCATE ALL kids.


We need your VOICE for CHOICE!

This announcement will also appear in our upcoming issue of the Minnesota NOW Times, which should be arriving in the mailboxes of all MN NOW members soon!

MN NOW is once again partnering with MN NARAL for Pro-Choice Lobby Day!
by Barbra Peterson, Vice President

When: March 4th,   (which is very apropos for us to March Forth for Choice)
Time : 8:45 am until 2:30 pm
Where: The People’s House, aka the State Capitol
Register, and check the schedule of events,  online at
On Facebook? Check out the Pro-Choice Lobby Day event page.

This year we’ll be lobbying, and rallying, for passage of the Comprehensive Sex Education bill. Thanks to the abstinence-only crowd, and the folks at MCCL (Morons Challenging our Civil Liberties), MN has seen an alarming upswing of teen pregnancies, 1 in 4 teens contracting an STD, and a 13% rise in HIV cases, all because we’re not teaching our students what they need to learn to keep them safe and healthy. Our students deserve better, and it’s up to all of us to make sure they have access to age appropriate, comprehensive sex education.

I’ve been attending Pro-Choice Lobby Day since the late 70’s, first in Illinois, and now in my new home state of Minnesota, and I can tell you it’s one of the best experiences of the year for me. To be surrounded by so many great Feminist activists, and to be able to advocate for reproductive justice with my Legislators, face to face, is very empowering.
The speeches at the noon rally are great–especially this year when one of our own, new MN NOW Board member Kriss Hakala, speaks about her fight with the Forest Lake school board to make sure her sons get the best education. Who better than a Mother of teens, and a NOW activist, to speak on this subject? I’m in awe of her tenacity and passion, and you will be, too.

This will be my 2nd year presenting the Break Out Session on “Multi-Generational Voices For Choice,” a topic near and dear to me. For my first few Lobby Days in MN, I was surprised to see that I was one of the very few gray-haired activists in attendance. Where was the Pre-Roe generation of mine? The ones who stood on the front lines for the battle for reproductive rights in the 60’s and 70’s?  Our presence, and our Voices for Choice, are needed NOW more than ever.

We remember what life was like before Roe.  We’ve lost Mothers, Daughters, Sisters and Aunts, due to back alleys, coat hangers, knitting needles, do-it-yourself illegal, unsafe abortions. We have to realize that those rights that were so hard fought, and won by us, are being eroded,step by step, state by state. NOW is the time for us to get back on those front lines.

We of the Pre-Roe, Menopausal Militia generation need to stand with our younger sisters and brothers, to let them know that we’re right there at their side. We need to be there to remind our Legislators what it was like Pre-Roe, and to say HELL NO, we won’t go back to that. We need to show the state that all of us, Feminists of all generations, stand together in this, what seems to be, a never-ending battle for Reproductive Justice. We will NOT back down, We will NOT go backwards, but we will March Forth, together.  I hope to see you all there, look for me.  Hopefully, I’ll be one of the many gray-haired activists in attendance.

Today in Herstory: 9/14 birthday of Margaret Sanger

Today September 14th is the birthday of the woman who caused science fiction writer H.G. Wells to say: “The movement she started will grow to be, a hundred years from now, the most influential of all time.” That woman is Margaret Sanger, (books by this author) born in Corning, New York (1879). She coined the term “birth control,” she was its most famous advocate in the United States, and she founded Planned Parenthood.

Margaret Sanger was born into a working-class Irish family. Her mother died when she was 50, after 18 pregnancies. Margaret went to New York City, became a nurse, got married, and gave birth to three kids. As a nurse, she worked in the maternity ward on the Lower East Side, and many of her patients were poor, some of them living on the streets. They seemed old to her by the time they were 35, and many of them ended up in the hospital from self-induced abortions, which often killed them. Margaret nursed one mother back to health after she gave herself an abortion, and heard the woman beg the doctor for some protection against another pregnancy; the doctor told the woman to make her husband sleep outside. That woman died six months later, after a botched abortion, and Margaret Sanger gave up nursing, convinced that she needed to work for a more systematic change.

At the time, contraceptives were illegal in the United States, and it was illegal even to send information about contraception through the U.S. Postal Service. The information and products were out there, but a privilege only of the wealthy, who knew how to work the system.

Margaret Sanger wrote a series of articles called “What Every Girl Should Know,” and published a radical newspaper, Woman Rebel, with information about contraception. In 1914, she was indicted for sending information about birth control through the mail. She fled to Europe, where she observed birth control clinics, and eventually came back to face charges. But after her five-year-old daughter died of pneumonia, the sympathetic public was on her side, and the charges were dropped.

But Sanger kept going. In 1916, she and her sister, who was also a nurse, opened a birth control clinic in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn, modeled after the clinics that Sanger had seen in Holland. Neighborhood residents, mostly Italian and Jewish immigrants, flocked to the clinic for information. Nine days later, the police closed it down and arrested Sanger, her sister, and the clinic’s interpreter. Sanger went to prison and her sister went on a hunger strike.

The publicity worked: Soon birth control became a matter of public discourse. In 1921, Sanger founded the American Birth Control League, which in 1946 became Planned Parenthood Federation of America. And she funded research to create a contraceptive pill.

She died at age 87, a few months after the landmark Supreme Court decision Griswold vs. Connecticut finally made birth control legal for married couples

MPR on sex ed, teen pregnancy, and the CDC compilation report

First link in this post…
After years of requiring sex education, reducing teen pregnancy and HIV infections remains a stubborn problem particularly among adolescents of color. A look at what’s next for addressing the major health challenges for teens.

The statistics and honest conversation from some of the callers isn’t surprising (maybe will be to some?), but the show is very good, something everyone – even childless people like me – should hear. And there are links to the study on the MPR page. 

...and here’s the second link:

Improvements in Sexual and Reproductive Health of Teens and Young Adults Slowing, After a period of improvement, trends in the sexual and reproductive health of U.S. teens and young adults have flattened, …

This is the official CDC Press Release. The link to the site with the full report (downloadable PDF, bottom of page) is at the bottom of the release page.


So, what were your experiences with sex education?  Did you have comprehensive sex ed?  When did it start?  Was it from mom or dad or another relative or trusted adult (or physician)?  Or was it in school?  If you received sex ed in school, does that school still offer it, or are they “abstinence only” now?

I’m from a small town in west central MN (Henning – it’s in Ottertail County, and has a whopping 738 people).  I did get sex ed in 6th grade from the school nurse.  Now, it was pretty basic, and really didn’t get into contraception, but it explained in blunt terms what all the parts were, how they worked, and how those boy and girl parts worked together.  Yeah, we all giggled and turned red, and some of us (me) were already having our periods, so when she talked about that, some of us sat up a little straighter and listened…we could…get pregnant?  But I’m 12!  Wow.

To be honest, I don’t know what happens in Henning today, but I’m going to ask a teacher/friend who is still there.  Do the same – find out what happened in your school.

And two things I thought were poigniant in the MPR radio program above:

  1. Parents need counseling and coaching to be comfortable with their OWN sexual health and knowledge so they can have those important discussions and open a dialogue with their kids.
  2. Even though the info wasn’t necessarily surprising, the interviews/conversations drew out the right points, AND pointed out how the move away from being comprehensive has been accompanied by an increasing rate of unplanned pregnancies in teens and very young women, and thus a growing rate of abortion.

So come on, anti-choice folks: If you REALLY want to reduce abortion, which I question considering your lack of support for education and birth control (hey, what would you have to rail against if abortion went down to a tiny figure?), you should support comprehensive sex ed.  AND you need to support education of parents and of communities about teen sex, sexual health, and discussing sex with kids.

Reproductive rights/freedom/health…collectively, women’s health.  This is my issue, your issue, a MN NOW issue!

I’ll be reading through the report.  I ask you to do the same, and then consider how we help.  And post it here.

Democrats For Life of America Boots Pro-Contraception Member

Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) was, as he put it, booted from the anti-choice Democratic organization Democrats for Life of America. Why? He thought the movement should include acceptance of contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies, thus reducing demand for abortion. This seems like a pretty valid point to me, but apparently such a scandalous position gets you kicked out of this group which Rep. Ryan recently described as a fringe group.

Yeah, something about saying that the only way to reduce abortion is to only use sex as a method of conception does seem just the tiniest bit fringe…

Seriously, I just read something saying that over 90% of women will use contraception at some point in their lives. Yet here we have a group of Democrats, supposedly the more liberal of the two parties, claiming that it’s not okay.

Interstingly you can read here about how young people use contraception at a much lower and less effective rate then those over 20. Hmm, but surely that doesn’t encourage them to seek, *gasp* abortions?!?!

Now I’m not with Rep. Ryan on the anti-choice position, but at least he’s actually using some logic. The same cannot be said of the group from which he was recently booted.

Crisis Pregnancy Centers and family dynamics

This is an excellent piece from Katherine Spillar.  If you have just 10 minutes, watch the YouTube video and read the text later.  And then do your homework: what’s happening in your community?  what are your thoughts on the issue, and on the larger issues of reproductive rights, sex education, deception/shaming of women about their bodies and choices, religion in health care, and federal funding.

And read below the link…the issue of Crisis Pregnancy Centers is personal to me…but not for the reason you might assume.

Crisis of Deception: Fake Clinics Spread Misinformation on the Federal Dime

 by Katherine Spillar (

Crisis pregnancy centers are fake clinics that provide deceptive and erroneous information to both pregnant and non-pregnant women on pregnancy, abortion, and contraception. And they often brazenly violate the separation of church and state. …

A personal connection, a family division

I sent the above article to a few friends with the following note:  “[…] My mom volunteers at a “crisis pregnancy center” […]. I am respectful and don’t confront her – it wouldn’t do anything but drive a wedge.  But I would welcome any advice from my sisters on how to rationally speak with my family on why such clinics are NOT HELPING ANYTHING, and are immensely harmful and dangerous.  My family is quite religious […] I would like to start a dialogue…but this proud Feminist is struggling.”

Advice came in.  Most said that despite how I feel about crisis pregnancy centers (and I DO think they’re dangerous, and DO think they’re spreading information that is not factual or scientific and are scaring women into a decision that isn’t based on their decision, made after they have all the information on all options for their care), I can’t change my family and shouldn’t try.  And on reflection, I realized they were correct.  I wrote back to the same group of friends.  Here’s part of what I said:

I didn’t intend to come across as if I expected that I could somehow change my mom, dad, or anyone else in my family, but see now that I did (and OK, maybe some small part of me wishes we agreed on a few more things OR that we were a big ‘debate the issues’ family, which we’re not…pretty much the opposite).

I know I can’t change anyone except myself.  So I will keep on lovin’ each one of them and supporting them where they are and in what they believe, and I will hope that perhaps some some day we’ll all be more comfortable discussing my point of view.  Why do I say discussing “my point of view”?  Because I listen at length to anything and everything they have to say.  I am comfortable with it, and supportive of their views, ask questions, and actually find it all interesting; it helps me understand them and their lives…and they are where I came from.  It just gets hard sometimes because I don’t feel I have the same invitation to speak of my feelings/thoughts on issues.

This is how we’ve operated since I left home for college: Leave politics and the issues discussed in this article out of the conversation (other than to occassionally touch on mom’s volunteer time at “The Center”).  We know we are on opposite sides of the line on abortion (we talked about it once when I was 17 and she made me watch a video about abortion and watch an abortion actually being done).  Even so, I do think we might agree on other reproductive rights issues: positive effects of good prenatal, natal, and post-natal care; the positive effects of widely available birth control to help people safely plan families and to reduce abortions and disease; etc.  But we’d have to talk about it as women’s health care, not reproductive rights.  And that’s just fine, since reproductive rights are a part of health care.
I know in my heart, head, and soul that my mom, dad, and brother have only the very best in mind for their fellow human beings.  And so do I.  My mom and dad are where I got my love for volunteering, my desire to give back, my sense of duty (in a positive way) to donate money/goods/give to those in need even when it’s not always easy, and to genuinely love others unconditionally.  And dad taught me what being egalitarian means.  Mom and dad continue to do this, and I only hope I live up to that valuable teaching.
So, dear reader, what is YOUR experience with crisis pregnancy centers…and with your family/friends/co-workers/acquaintances as relates to them (and to sex ed, reproductive health, etc)?
In sisterhood,
Jessica Trites Rolle
Feminist, MN NOW Legislative Coordinator

Faith-based Initiatives & Abortion

Another thing I found in my federal budget digging (and oddly exciting activity) was a little document that President Obama is apparently applying to his Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, Title X of the Public Health and Services Act. Most of the act seems pretty good, supporting sex ed programs and the like, but Section 1008 struck me as troubling. The little passage states that “None of the funds appropriated under this title shall be used in programs where abortion is a method of family planning.”

Hmm. Apparently just saying that you’re not anti-choice doesn’t mean you’ll fund programs that mention non-medical abortions… If we’re going to choose something about the President’s plans for Family Planning, please let’s use his support for PHS Act Title X, and not his appointee to run faith-based programs.