Know Your Rights: Advocating for Your Sexual and Reproductive Health

This guest post comes from the Planned Parenthood Arizona Education Team’s Casey Scott-Mitchell, who serves as the community education & training coordinator at Planned Parenthood Arizona.

It’s important that all young people have the information and resources they need to take care of their sexual and reproductive health. However, depending on the state you live in, you might encounter barriers in the form of laws and policies that affect your ability as a young person to access your sexual and reproductive rights. Through our work of providing sex education in various Arizona communities, we know many people aren’t fully clear on what their rights are when it comes to sexual and reproductive health — so consider this a quick crash course!


A critical step in protecting your sexual health is to understand your rights.


In terms of information about sexuality, there is no state law requiring sex education in schools. It is up to each school district to decide whether they provide sex education, and what type of curriculum they want to use if they do provide it. We know there are many districts across Arizona that have chosen not to offer sex education to their students or to provide limited information about sexuality (e.g., abstinence-only sex ed).

The lack of consistency around sex education is problematic because research shows that most youth and their families want their schools to offer comprehensive sex ed  — a holistic curriculum that covers topics like consent, healthy relationships, STDs, birth control, abstinence, etc. Furthermore, when youth receive comprehensive sex ed, they are more likely to have healthy relationships and make choices that will reduce their likelihood of unintended pregnancies and STDs.

When it comes to accessing resources and services that help young people protect their health, there are a few laws in Arizona that are important to know about: Continue reading

Parental Notification Laws: What’s the Harm?

parent teen communicationIf, in 1987, you had asked Bill and Karen Bell if minors should be required to obtain permission from their parents before receiving an abortion, they would have been all for it. It didn’t seem like an extreme or dangerous position — after all, shouldn’t parents have a right to know when a surgical procedure is being performed on their underage children?


Lack of access to effective contraception and safe abortion hurts women.


That all changed in 1988, when their 17-year-old daughter Becky died unexpectedly — 25 years ago today. Becky’s mysterious plea at the hospital, just before she passed away, was for her parents to “please forgive me.” Later, they found a letter that said, “I wish I could tell you everything, but I can’t. I have to deal with it myself. I can do it, and I love you.” Her words made sense when Becky’s death was determined to have been caused by a bacterial infection brought about by an illegal abortion.

In Indiana, where the Bell family resided, minors needed parental permission in order to obtain an abortion. Becky Bell, for whatever reason, didn’t feel she could confide in her parents about her unwanted pregnancy, and while judicial bypasses were technically an option, the judge in her district had never granted one.

The parental-consent law couldn’t force familial communication: Becky either obtained a back-alley abortion or attempted to self-abort — and the unsterilized equipment that was most likely used caused an infection that raged for six days before taking her life. Her grief-stricken parents wrote, “We would rather have not known that our daughter had had an abortion, if it meant that she could have obtained the best of care, and come back home safely to us.” Continue reading

20 Years Since Planned Parenthood v. Casey

The U.S. Supreme Court, presided over by William H. Rehnquist, decided Planned Parenthood v. Casey 20 years ago.

This Friday, June 29, marks the 20th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey.

I first learned about the Supreme Court decision of Planned Parenthood v. Casey about 10 years ago. I was sitting in a constitutional law class in a suburban university. It was my first introduction to abortion access restrictions whose names are now commonplace to me: mandatory counseling sessions, 24-hour waiting periods, parental consent, spousal notification, and reporting requirements.

Basically, the facts of the case look like this. In 1989, Pennsylvania amended its Abortion Control Act to require:

  • the person undergoing the abortion to give informed consent and receive mandatory counseling, including alternatives to abortion.
  • a 24-hour waiting period between the counseling appointment and the procedure itself.
  • parental consent for minors, with available judicial bypass.
  • a spousal notification requirement.
  • reporting requirements for providers.

Geography, relationships, and other life realities are perfectly capable of creating their own “undue burdens.”


The state’s Planned Parenthood association challenged the statute and — fast forwarding a bunch — the case eventually ended up in the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that the standard for whether a state could enact a restriction to abortion access was whether that restriction placed an “undue burden” on the person seeking the abortion. A burden would be considered undue “if its purpose or effect is to place substantial obstacles in the path of a woman seeking an abortion before the fetus attains viability.”

Of the restrictions enumerated in Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act, the Court considered only the spousal notification requirement an undue burden. Continue reading