[Interview] Seventeen Mag Electionista On Reproductive Rights + Why You Should Vote

Photo: (Seventeen)

Young people and women are two big voting blocs who can sway the election, and Seventeen magazine combined them together by highlighting dedicated political young women for their 2012 Electionistas in the October issue!

We caught up with Electionista Mackenzie “Kenzie” Massey, 21, to talk about the issue she’s passionate about most, reproductive rights, and the importance of voting and standing up for what you believe in. Mackenzie talks about keeping yourself protected, why politics matter so much to her, and who would be her celeb vice presidential nominee if she ever runs for president. Get to know more about Kenzie and why she’s voting below!

ACT: Why do you feel the way you do about reproductive rights? Why does this issue matter to you?

MACKENZIE: Growing up I always had very honest parents who answered any curious question I could think of with the medically accurate explanation of how bodies worked. As a result, I learned about condoms as a contraceptive method and as prevention for the transmission of STIs. Over time, however, I began to realize that some of my friends and classmates were becoming sexually active but hadn’t learned the same information at home that I had. And they didn’t get that information at school either because of our abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education programs. One day in health class at my middle school, after discussing how “gonorrhea hurts when you pee-uh,” I asked my teacher about using condoms to prevent transmission of STIs like gonorrhea. I was immediately shut down. My teacher told me that we would not be talking about condoms at all. Frustrated and confused about why a teacher, who we were supposed to trust and confide in, would give us misleading information that put our lives in danger, I decided I had to take action.

I became a trained peer educator with Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas (now Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast) in order to give my classmates reliable, medically accurate, confidential information. Since we weren’t receiving any information in school, for many of my peers I was the only source of information they had because their parents felt too awkward to discuss it with them.

When high school came around, sexual activity was even more common among my peers and the consequences of failed abstinence-only programs and limited access to contraception became obvious. Unintended teen pregnancy and STIs became common occurrence at my school. According to the CDC, 72.1% of high school seniors in Texas are sexually experienced compared with 63.1% of high school seniors across the country. Not only were Texas students more likely to be sexually experienced, they were also less likely to use contraception. Only 11.3% of sexually active high school students in Texas reported using birth control during their last sexual encounter compared with 18% on a national level. When it comes to condoms, only 53.8% of sexually active Texas students used a condom during their last sexual encounter compared with 60.2% of sexually active students across the country. Clearly abstinence-only programs that dominate Texas sex education classrooms are failing our young people.

I believe that young people have the right to medically accurate, comprehensive sex education that allows them to make responsible choices for their bodies and their futures when the time is right. While abstinence is the only 100% effective method of preventing pregnancy and STI transmission, abstinence is not used by 100% of young people. While our lawmakers and administrators refuse to recognize that young people can make responsible decisions about our bodies, they are putting our health at risk.

The Seventeen magazine 2012 Electionistas!

MACKENZIE: I believe that in an ideal world abortion would be safe and legal, but totally unnecessary. In this perfect world, unplanned pregnancies would be few and far between so that every child is born into a family that can support them. With responsible sex education and increased access to condoms and contraception, unplanned pregnancies and STIs would disappear. In a legal sense, it would require that all sex education materials used in a classroom be medically accurate and include information on contraception and disease prevention in addition to the importance of abstinence for young people. Moreover, a woman’s healthcare decisions (including whether to use contraception) should be made between her family and her doctor — not a legislator who has no idea what she is going through. When I hear politicians try to make oppressive rules about what I can and can’t do with my body, it is as if they are telling me that I am too stupid to think for myself and that my doctor is also too stupid to understand my healthcare needs.

ACT: What do you think young women need to know about their rights, reproductive or otherwise?

MACKENZIE: Young women need to speak up and let our voices be heard! Half this country uses birth control. Even 98% of Catholic women have used birth control at some point in their lives, and it is unacceptable for politicians to decide our healthcare decisions for us. There are many women who use birth control for non-contraceptive reasons like treating endometriosis, relieving polycystic ovarian syndrome, or even relief from abnormally painful periods. Despite the benefits of birth control and extremely common use by American women, some politicians are intent on waging a war on birth control by making it harder to access. Young women must let their representatives know that they use birth control and they won’t stand for a politician trying to control their healthcare.

ACT: What do you think it’s important to vote in the election?

MACKENZIE: I think it is important to vote in the election out of democratic principle — it’s your civic duty! Unfortunately, some people become disillusioned and think that their vote doesn’t make a difference. But young people’s votes can be influential. For example, the State Board of Education is the partisan political body that determines curriculum and textbook standards for Texas public school students, but few Texans know very much about the board or pay attention to it. I have been working with young people from colleges across the state to educate Texans about the board and register more people to vote, and we’re seeing changes. In 2010 voters elected some new board members — from both major parties — who have been working to end the “culture war” battles that have caused so many problems on things like teaching about sex education and evolution. But the only way to maintain that progress is to keep educating voters and get Texans to the polls to vote.

ACT: How do you think we can get more young people interested in voting and getting involved in politics?

MACKENZIE: I’ve always thought that once you start looking into politics, it’s hard to get out. Of course I’m a total political science nerd, so I am a little biased. What some young people don’t realize about politics is that it is what makes our life the way it is. The people that we elect make the decisions that govern our daily lives. Young people now make up a large voting group. If we would just show up to the polls, we could have an enormous impact on the politicians elected to office. Even then, once elections are finished, you can always go talk to your representatives about the issues you care about, no matter what they are. Better yet, get a group of friends together to take action on an issue that is important to you and you’ll be able to see the effects of your hard work and grassroots organizing.

ACT: If you were running for president, which celebrity would be your VP nominee and why?

MACKENZIE: Jon Stewart. I know he’s politically savvy, funny, friendly, and reliable. It also helps that he has some good common sense when it comes to the issues I care about most: reproductive rights, education, healthcare, and responsible foreign policy.

You have the power to decide the outcome of the 2012 Election. Register to vote with our super easy registration tool. So, no excuses. Vote like a champ.