VICKSBURG — Former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders said Thursday that women still face obstacles, such as a lack of information, to controlling their reproductive health in America.
Her remarks, made during a Women’s History Month program at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Vicksburg District, come roughly a week after Mississippi enacted a law that requires school districts to teach some form of sex education. Students must have parental permission, though, to take the class.
“If you don’t educate young people about their sexuality and how to protect themselves, you are setting yourself up to repeat the same thing,” Elders said after her speech.
Mississippi has some of the nation’s highest teen pregnancy rates.
A native of Arkansas, Elders earned her medical degree on the G.I. bill after serving in the military. As a pediatric endocrinologist, she studied child development and the treatment of hormone-related illnesses, despite having never seen a doctor herself until her first year of college.
She served as surgeon general under President Bill Clinton.
Elders presented a general history of women’s rights since the advent of the suffrage movement in 1848. She pointed to leaders, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton in the abolitionist movement, and milestones such as the appointment of Sandra Day O’Conner to the Supreme Court.
But, she said, there is still work to be done.
“I’ve said forever, if you can’t control your reproduction, you can’t control your life,” she told the crowd.
Elders congratulated Gov. Haley Barbour, a potential Republican presidential candidate, for making a positive impact on education and economic development in Mississippi.
“I know he must have a good wife,” she said.
Following the speech, she said that comprehensive health education in schools, from kindergarten through the 12th grade, is necessary in order to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Molly Davis/The Associated Press