Save MariaTalks

By DailyCollegian.com Staff

Budgets and spending seem to be on everyone’s minds these days, both on a national level and closer to home. On the chopping block of the Massachusetts state budget, however, is more than just our school’s funding.

Courtesy sexualhealthcare.net
Courtesy sexualhealthcare.net

As reported by The Quincy Patriot-Ledger, Rep. Marc Lombardo (R-Billerica) held a press conference Tuesday calling on Governor Deval Patrick and requesting the state shut down a sex education website called MariaTalks.com. The website, maintained by the AIDS Action Committee, receives part of its funding through state grants.

Lombardo’s main issue with the website stems from the section on abortion. The site goes into detail about abortion laws and procedures in Massachusetts, and Lombardo faults it for informing underage girls how to get an abortion without first informing their parents. In Massachusetts, a girl under 18 can only get an abortion with either parental consent or authorization from a judge.

The abortion section on MariaTalks.com is just one page on a very well-rounded and in-depth sex education website. MariaTalks relates information from the point-of-view of a fictional 18-year-old girl named Maria, who speaks in an informal and accessible way to educate young readers.

MariaTalks has a lot of information on sex, birth control, emergency contraception, sexually transmitted diseases and sexual violence. This information can often be difficult to get for teenagers, who may end up resorting to confusing or unreliable sources. MariaTalks instead educates these kids with the stated goal of “helping young people make healthy, informed decisions about sex,” according to AIDS Action Committee’s website.

Most sections on the site actually encourage teenagers to consult with their parents on the decisions they are making. Importantly, abortion is also the last option presented to pregnant teens, after pages on birth control, contraceptives and adoption. The site simply acknowledges the reality that some girls do not or cannot involve their parents in the process, and gives them the information they deserve to know.

Despite Rep. Lombardo’s objections, the site does a great service to the commonwealth of Massachusetts, and it is in the state’s best interest to keep it running. The increased education on sexual health helps teenagers avoid sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. By giving teens the information they need to avoid a pregnancy, the site will actually help cut back on the abortions Lombardo is crusading against in the first place.

After all, not every teen’s parents are keen to have the birds and bees talk, and even then, Mom and Dad are not necessarily experts on the subject. Sex education in schools is often limited, and teenagers may be less willing to ask questions about sexual health in front of their peers. The ability to consult a reliable, accessible website from the comfort of one’s own home is greatly beneficial to a teenager, who can then get the information he or she wants.

Lombardo’s letter also has the backing of Representatives Colleen Garry (D-Dracut) and Stephen DiNatale (D-Fitchburg). While Lombardo is at least keeping with the party line with his stance, Garry and DiNatale are Democrats who are crossing ideological lines to oppose the site.

This attack on sex education is especially troubling in light of recent budget cuts recommended by the Massachusetts House of Representatives for the next fiscal year, according to the AIDS Action Committee. The cuts include some $2 million to programs that serve people with HIV and AIDS, as well as helping combat the disease. These cuts combined with the demand to remove MariaTalks run the risk of increasing the rates of HIV and AIDS in Massachusetts, including among young adults.

MariaTalks has several long sections confronting HIV and AIDS issues, including information on how to protect oneself, how to get tested and what to do if you or a friend tests positive. The site also has a long section supporting LGBTQIA visitors to the site, who are even less likely to find reliable information about sexual health. Even if Massachusetts decides to cut funding towards combating HIV and AIDS, it is at least in the interest of the state to support a website that will help combat it instead.

It is important that Governor Patrick rejects the representatives’ letter and continues the state’s financial support of MariaTalks. Massachusetts has relatively low teen pregnancy and birth rates compared to the rest of the country, and MariaTalks is going to help keep it that way.

Billy Rainsford is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]