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South Carolinians Use Social Media to Advance Reproductive and Sexual Health Policies

Saturday, March 20, 2010 Sexual Health News J E 4


COLUMBIA, S.C., March 19 On March 23, thousands of South Carolinians will embrace the virtual world during an online rally to educate their legislators about the importance of sexual health education and providing access to publicly funded counseling and clinical services. Using social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, the 6,000 member e-advocacy network Tell Them has organized South Carolina's first-ever Virtual March on the State House.

"We were looking for a modern way to engage citizens in the political process. This virtual event gives voters a convenient way to demonstrate their shared beliefs on these issues and to ask their legislators to support and fund responsible public health policies," said Emma Davidson, Tell Them

program manager.

The event comes at a critical time for South Carolina. Teen pregnancy rates in the state are up for the fourth year in a row. And, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now consider South Carolina one of the Top Ten HIV "hot spots" in the nation.

"With lawmakers looking to reconcile budget shortfalls, it's more important than ever that they understand the social and economic implications of the state's health policies. For example, here in South Carolina one-third of publicly funded family planning clinics have been closed over the last few

years due to budget cuts. This makes no sense when we have epidemic-level rates of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV," said Bonnie Adams Kapp, Executive Director of the New Morning Foundation.

Marchers will share other powerful statistics with lawmakers. Births to young mothers cost South Carolina taxpayers $156 million annually. This cost includes, among other things, public assistance for teen mothers and their babies. Nationally, South Carolina ranks #2 in cases of Gonorrhea, #3 for Chlamydia, and #8 in pregnancies among 15-to 19-year-olds.

"So many of our state's challenges, issues like poverty and poor education, are rooted in inadequate health policies that hinder our young people. We must move beyond abstinence-only programs and provide age-appropriate sexual education and access to clinical services for our youth," said Tell Them member Deborah Billings, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Health Promotion, Education and Behavior at the Arnold School of Public Health; Women's and Gender Studies at the University of South Carolina.

South Carolina is not alone. As states across the country face mounting deficits, these programs are particularly vulnerable. And yet, recent research from the University of Iowa and University of Northern Iowa found that family planning services to teenagers can save more than $17 for every tax dollar invested over a five-year period.

This cost-benefit analysis is part of the message that South Carolinians will share with lawmakers during the 24-hour online rally beginning at noon on March 23.

"Social media tools have had a tremendous impact on consumer behavior and advocacy organizations like Tell Them are learning from that," said Sharon Edwards, President of the Cornerstone Consulting Group, and a nationally recognized expert on teenage pregnancy prevention. "Tell Them has adopted a model that is both innovative and effective."

The New Morning Foundation, based in South Carolina, is a non-partisan grant-making and policy organization dedicated to improving young people's access to reproductive health education, counseling, and clinical services. Tell Them is the organization's grassroots electronic advocacy network. For more information visit www.newmorningfoundation.org or tellthemsc.org.

SOURCE New Morning Foundation


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