Missouri’s high rural teen pregnancy rates are nothing to celebrate. I know firsthand | Opinion

Since the reversal of Roe v. Wade, many American women living in red states, like me, face several ongoing challenges. Thirteen states have passed bans on almost all abortions, and my home state of Missouri became the first to do so with a “trigger law” enacted immediately after the Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision.

Because of these challenges, I see real danger in Colorado Republican Rep. Lauren Boebert applauding the high teen birth rates in rural parts of the United States. She identifies these communities as places that “value life,” but I’m curious as to how she defines life. Boebert and I must possess two differing definitions of that term.

I must admit, there is much I admire about Rep. Boebert. She was a teen mom who dropped out of high school, but became a small business owner and got elected to office fighting for the voices of like-minded people. I recognize the need to elect more women to office.

Boebert is praising teen birth rates because this proud conservative gun enthusiast is becoming a “gigi” herself at the age of 36. Her teenage son is expecting his first child in April. I’m near 36, and nowhere near entering the grandmother phase of my life — if my daughters even want children. Instead, I’m attempting to send my oldest daughter, who is 8, to a nonreligious private school (which is difficult to find in rural southwest Missouri) to protect her from Republicans’ anti-public education agenda, while preparing my youngest daughter, who is 3, for preschool.

In other words, although Boebert and I are the same age, we are at two different spots in our lives. Plus, she is the mother to four boys, and I’m the mother of two daughters. My daughters’ futures are at a higher risk than her sons’.

Unlike Boebert, I gave birth to my children later on in life, but I’m the daughter of a teen mom from the kind of rural area Boebert brags about. Trust me, my mother and I endured several challenging moments that made me question our quality of life. My mom tolerated community condemnation — and several choices were made for her that affected her mental health.

Here’s the reality: Many pregnant teens drop out of school, and some never complete their education. That means many of these new parents live in poverty, and many low-income mothers do not take maternity leave because they can’t afford to miss work. This results in a higher risk of postpartum depression, which puts those families at an elevated chance for infant and child abuse.

My mother dropped out of high school. However, I did get to see her graduate with her bachelor’s degree when I was 14. We lived in poverty, surviving domestic violence. My mother worked hourly jobs, scarcely making enough to pay for the bare minimum to live.

Part of the reasons rural areas experience a higher teen pregnancy rate include cultural norms coupled with the lack of access to education and resources. In fact, sex education is lacking in many rural areas, and in the limited education that is taught, the curriculum is often gender-focused: The girls are the responsible party. If a girl doesn’t want to contract a sexually transmitted disease or suffer from a traumatic childbirth, she must refrain from sex until marriage. In my experiences as a former high school educator from a rural area, I worked with young women who didn’t even know they were raped.

I imagine Gigi Boebert will value her grandson’s life, but his family is not the norm for most teen parents. I can imagine the Boeberts will purchase a gun as a birthday gift for the child before kindergarten, and this weapon will likely cost more than the average monthly rent for most low-income teen parents.

Yes, rural areas suffer from higher teen pregnancy rates, but it’s a reflection of the discrimination of less access to high quality health care, higher rates of poverty and lack of resources, versus a community choosing and valuing life.

Kayla Branstetter is a writer, artist and English instructor for Crowder College in Cassville , Missouri.