...This pervasive religious fanaticism has sharply curtailed Southern women's sexual and reproductive freedom. Of public schools that provide any sex education, 55 percent in the South, as opposed to 35 percent nationwide and 20 percent in the Northeast, adhere to a strict abstinence-only curriculum. Not surprisingly, the region also boasts the highest teen birthrates in the country. In 2001, 6.7 percent of girls aged 15-19 gave birth in Mississippi, over three times as many as in New Hampshire. Incidentally, 98 percent of counties in Mississippi had no abortion providers as of 2000.
"In the South, the strength of the church has worked very much against women in terms of pushing them into traditional roles, and refusing to deal with sex education, health rights, reproductive rights," said Cornish. Indeed, Mississippi went so far as to enact a law in July permitting all types of healthcare workers and facilities to refuse to perform any service they object to on moral or religious grounds. "We have doctors who won't even issue birth-control prescriptions," Nsombi Lambright of the American Civil Liberties Union's Mississippi branch told the Associated Press.
The obstacles facing Southern African-American women are especially severe. In 1999, the five worst states for African-American women's earnings were in the South. Southern black children are two times more likely than white kids to be poor. Despite this, the region has the lowest welfare benefits and some of the harshest sanctions in the country. Rascaun Ellis, an African-American woman from Mississippi, said this leaves many in her town, particularly young girls, feeling hopeless. She recalled that one of the brightest girls in her high school dropped out after getting pregnant. "She just accepted what she saw as her fate." Participants from Louisiana, where nearly 20 percent of women live in poverty, to Kentucky, where more than half of households headed by women have incomes below $15,000 a year, spoke of how poverty affected their everyday lives, from the roaches in their grocery store to the poorly funded city schools to the fact that it took one attendee's sister a year to recover from a minor injury because most doctors in her town of 17,000 were incompetent.
It seems that the fundies like their women uneducated and pregnant. Laura Bush is the perfect role model, with her ever-present vacant-eyed smile, her mind always on a pleasant thought where reality can't intrude.