Part of coming of age means not just growing older but taking an honest look at the life you've led and the decisions that you've made along the way--both the good and the bad. For me, this is an example of just that. As I tell people all of the time, I am was not always the well-adjusted young lady you see today and while many of us have traveled the same path, there are very few of us who are actually able to speak publicly about it.
Voters in California are going to be voting on more than just the next President of the United States of America come this November. They'll also be voting on a proposition to make it illegal for a minor to have an abortion without prior parental notification.
When I was a teenage girl, I was sexually promiscuous--hard to believe for those who know me today, but yes I am a former teenage tramp.
I'm not proud of it but looking back, sex was my self-destruction drug of choice. I am sure my self-destructive behavior had something to do with my parent's divorce, my relationship or lack thereof with my mother, my anger about my family situation, being thrown into "the system" and made a ward of the State of California at 13, and my thinking that the more sex I had with men, the more likely I was to get rid of the feelings I had for the same-sex. In the end, it got me nowhere and forced me to learn a lot of lessons the hard way.
During the 90s, I was a teenager having sex, oftentimes with men old enough to be my father (sorry Daddy) who often stalked the campuses of my junior high school and high school around 3 p.m. Monday through Friday looking for teenage girls like me--young, dumb, and impressed by brothers who carried beepers and drove cars that had rims, tinted windows, and a sound system.
In the end, those same men who took advantage of na•ve sistas like me got what they wanted, sex, and I lost my innocence and ended up with an unwanted and unplanned pregnancy to deal with.
I can still remember the White women standing in front of the parking lot to the clinic in Inglewood with sincere smiles holding disturbing photos of aborted fetuses urging me not to go through with it and me feeling awkward for not knowing how to respond.
I can still remember lying on my back looking up into a blinding light trying not to focus on anything in the room while the anesthesiologist is telling me to count backwards from 100. I think I got to 90 before passing out.
I can still remember waking up hurting down there and feeling an awful guilty feeling up there--in my heart.
And even though it's been over ten years, it feels like it was yesterday when I had my first abortion courtesy of the State of California.
It's not something that I am proud of, but it is something that today on the eve of my 31st birthday, I have come to terms with and have begun to talk about. Especially now when California voters are posed to vote on whether or not to make abortions available to minor girls without prior parental notification.
Let me be clear-crystal. I wasn't having sex because I knew that having an abortion was a choice should I end up pregnant. I wasn't smart enough to even be thinking that far down the line. But what I do know is that I am glad that I made the decision to have an abortion instead of becoming another Black unwed teenage mother unable to care for a child and ending up going from one system to another...the welfare system.
It was a hard decision for me to make at such a young age. And I can tell you had I have been made to discuss my decision with my parents or grandma prior to going through with it, I probably would have kept my pregnancy a secret until it was too late or worse, tried to get rid of the child on my own.
Now I am not advocating for young girls to have abortions, but two wrongs don't make a right. Wrong number one is to be having sex at such a young age in the first place. Wrong number two is putting that same young lady's life in danger by forcing her to confide in her parents regarding her pregnancy in order to get an abortion.
All of the energies and money that have been put into Proposition 4 would have been better spent on continuing to find new, culturally relevant, and innovative ways to educate our youth on the consequences of having unprotected sex-those being HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, and pregnancy.
Whether we agree with it or not, our youth are having sex...most times willingly. Quite frankly, today's pop culture practically demands it.
Some Black music encourages it along disrespecting Black women.
Needless to say, we've come a long ways from my parent's generation where if you got knocked up in high school you either disappeared for nine months while your family lived in shame or the young man who did the knocking up was forced, sometimes with a shotgun, to marry the mother to be. There was no parading of unwed pregnant teenagers and their boyfriends around the country, even if they were the daughter of a vice-presidential candidate.
We've got to address teenage sex like we've attempted to address sex in the prisons among inmates. We all know it happens and that it is going to continue to happen, the least we can do is make sure that both parties are educated and have access to condoms and other mechanisms to protect against unwanted outcomes.
Proposition 4 isn't going to put an end to teenage pregnancies, I can assure you of that. And not all of the teenagers that get knocked up are going to come from wealthy families where it's not an issue to add another mouth at the table--in fact most are not.
Take it from someone who has been there before, if passed, all Proposition 4 is going to do is open the flood gates for at-home abortions or for young girls not addressing their unwanted pregnancy until it's too late--even for an abortion.
If the goal is the safety of our children, then let's not do anything to put them in harms way and that includes passing Proposition 4.
Oh and today--I know how to respond to those nice White ladies that love to prop themselves up in urban communities in front of clinics that perform abortions.
It's very simple. Unless those same nice White ladies with their sincere smiles and disturbing photos of aborted fetuses are willing to support me and my child--they need to mind their own damn business because the last time I checked while they didn't want me to get an abortion, they weren't exactly championing welfare for unwed teenage mothers either.
Vote No on Proposition 4!
At 30, Jasmyne Cannick is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the worlds of pop culture, race, class, sexuality, and politics as it relates to the African-American community. A regular contributor to NPR's 'News and Notes,' she was chosen as one Essence Magazine's 25 Women Shaping the World. She can be reached at www.jasmynecannick.com or www.myspace.com/jasmynecannick.