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The Fog Zone: Encouraging Reproductive and Sexual Decision-Making

by Micole Allekotte, Health Fellow,
National Women's Law Center

This is the last blog post in a series on a recent study on the nation’s high rates of unplanned pregnancy.

In previous blog posts in this series I highlighted the National Campaign to Prevent Teenage and Unplanned Pregnancy’s findings that young adults lack knowledge about reproduction and how to plan it and don’t trust the motives of those who advocate family planning. 

This is not surprising, considering that many people who are against certain expressions of sexuality and certain reproductive decisions argue that they can and should control the choices others make in these areas. People who believe that their role is to force people to make the choices they consider correct often try to portray the pro-choice movement as “pro-abortion,” implying that the difference of opinion is about which decision people should be coerced into making (hence terms like “pro-life” and “pro-abortion.”) 

The real difference of opinion is that we think people should make these decisions for themselves, while they believe that it is moral to “protect” people from “bad” decisions by simply limiting the options (hence our preferred terms,“pro-choice” and “anti-choice.”) For those of us who recognize that we can’t and shouldn’t force our life choices on others, the challenge is to ensure that everyone facing decisions about their sex and reproductive lives has access to accurate information they trust. The Fog Zone report has suggestions for helping people to make decisions based on facts and thought rather than fear and chance.

Decisions We Make

Everyone, male and female, young and old, needs continuing access to comprehensive information that will help us make decisions about sex and reproduction.

  • Whether and when to have sex, how, and with whom.
  • Whether and when to have a family, including whether to plan it or just let it happen.
  • How to align our behaviors with our preferences for our relationships, sex lives, personal lives, and family formation.

Comprehensive Sex Education

A primary access point for information is education, both within the school system and continuing into adulthood; comprehensive sex education would include:

  • Information about pregnancy, childbirth, and child rearing to help young adults determine whether they would like to have children, when, and under what circumstances.  This should not be aimed at coercing young adults into making particular decisions, but rather at helping us balance our desires for family with our other goals.
  • Information about all contraceptive options, including how to use condoms, hormonal methods, and longer term methods such as IUDs.  Risks and health benefits of each method should be explained.
  • Information about STIs and HIV/AIDS, including prevention tactics.  We need to be able to evaluate the risks of various sexual behaviors, including how number of partners, participating in specific acts, and use of preventative measures affect chances of infection.
  • Discussion that directly addresses healthy and respectful relationships.  We need the skills to communicate our own decisions, to recognize and respect the decisions of others, and to determine which decisions we want to make jointly and which disagreements are deal breakers.

Medical Providers

Medical providers should take a strong role in helping people to make sexual and reproductive decisions by ensuring that everyone is given full and complete information, but should not make people’s personal decisions for them.

  • Medical providers must be trained in family planning and encouraged to take a role as unbiased, non-judgmental, and accurate sources of information.
  • Providers should ask about their male and female patients’ preferences for family formation.
  • Providers should help their patients match their behaviors to their preferences by discussing a full variety of contraceptive methods available.
  • Providers should recognize that their role is to help patients make decisions about their reproductive lives, and not to push the providers’ preferences on the patient.

Social Environment

It is often hard for parents to recognize that they cannot force their children to make the decisions the parents would prefer. But parents do have a role in shaping young people’s preferences and ability to evaluate their options. 

  • Parents should communicate with their teens and young adults about the importance of family planning; parents can help us think about goals for the future, including when to start—and when to postpone—a family, and the options available to align our actual lives with our plans.

Reproductive justice and pro-choice movements are fundamentally about increasing autonomy. We aren’t pro-abortion—we’re pro leaving the choice in the pregnant woman’s hands. We aren’t pro-having sex—we’re pro leaving whether and with whom to have sex up to you. We aren’t against anyone having children—we’re for each person deciding whether and when they want children and having the knowledge and resources to prevent pregnancy as well as the resources and support to raise children. We are pro you deciding. 

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