- 08 Oct 07
A new campaign aimed at drastically reducing the number of unintended pregnancies worldwide has the star of The OC, Mischa Barton as its spokesperson.
By the time you finish reading this sentence, 153 women around the world will have had an unintended pregnancy. Whatever your reading speed, each year more than 80 million women worldwide have unintended pregnancies and a quarter of those risk abortion (68,000 of these women die as a result).
It is a shocking figure, especially considering the easy availability of various reliable birth control methods nowadays. While the figures are higher in countries where contraception is difficult to obtain, this is a major problem in both developed and developing countries. Of the 28 million pregnancies occurring every year in the industrialised countries, an estimated 49% are unplanned – which is also an extraordinary figure. 36% of these (or approximately 18% of the total) end in abortion.
Against this backdrop, a major press conference was held in Berlin at the end of September, announcing details of World Contraception Day – the first ever international awareness campaign aiming to reduce the high levels of unintended pregnancy that occur every year.
Presented by young Hollywood actress Mischa Barton, WCD is a joint initiative of the global sexual and reproductive health agency Marie Stopes International (MSI), the European Society of Contraception (ESC), the Centro Latino America Salud y Muier (CELSAM), the International Federation of Paediatric and Adolescent Gynaecology (FIGIJ) and the Asia Pacific Council on Contraception. It is supported by Bayer Schering Pharma AG (manufacturers of the pill).
World Contraception Day is a long-term campaign aimed at all women and men of reproductive age. ‘Your Life’, a brand developed specifically for WCD, is the overarching theme of the campaign.
In 2007, the focus is on young adults under the strapline, “Live your life before you start another.” Research has shown that the greatest educational need relates to young adults, with recent studies identifying that one in every 10 births is to a mother who is still a child herself. The theme for 2007 aims to appeal directly to young adults.
“World Contraception Day is a much-needed campaign,” Dana Hovig, CEO of Marie Stopes International stated at the press conference, “to highlight the importance of enabling women and men to make informed decisions about becoming parents at a time that’s right for them. Unintended pregnancy is a widespread and under-recognised problem, not just in low income countries, but in the developed world as well.”
Officially launching WCD, spokesperson for the campaign, actress and star of The O.C., Mischa Barton, succeeded in bringing a personal dimension to the issue. “I know that I feel too young to have a child and many people my age probably feel the same,” she said. “I want to encourage all young people to follow their aspirations and live their lives to the full. They should only have a baby when they are ready, and not by chance. Every child should be wanted. That’s why I believe increasing awareness of contraception and reproductive health is a must.”
At the brief Q&A session following the delegates speeches, hotpress asked the panel what was their feeling on the Catholic church’s teaching that all contraception is sinful.
Dana Hovig responded, “That’s a difficult and sensitive question. I think that this group of professionals gathered here today tries to look at the world as it is, not as it should be or as people want it to be. The reality is that 13 million teenagers, despite messages from those who don’t believe in contraception or abortion, 13 million teenagers are having sex and having unplanned pregnancies. That’s just the way the world is.
“And we, in all humility, are trying to make that world a little better. Not by promoting contraception alone, because we know that doesn’t work. And not by promoting abstinence alone either, because we know that doesn’t work either. We know that each individual is different and each individual needs choices about whether to abstain, whether to reduce the number of partners that they have or whether to use contraception. We don’t prescribe what teenagers should do, we just trust them with choices. And we trust that if we educate them, they’ll make better choices, more often than not.”
“I’M PRO-CHOICE” – A Q & A WITH MISCHA BARTON
Following the World Contraception Day press conference, Hot Press spoke with the 21-year-old actress Mischa Barton. Wearing a pair of Guess jeans and a white WCD T-shirt, the gorgeous young star was obviously tired – but perked up slightly when told that Hot Press is an Irish publication.
HOT PRESS: What possessed you to front this campaign above all the other things you could’ve been a spokesperson for?
MISCHA BARTON: “Well, I do quite a bit of charity work anyway – though this isn’t quite so much charity work, this is more kind of like raising awareness. And being a young woman myself, this is aimed at teenagers and young women. So I’m kind of lucky enough to be in a position where hopefully I can shed some light on the issue.”
Most of your fans are teenagers, aren’t they?
“Yeah – a large quantity of the people who watched The O.C. were young women.”
Your mother is Irish, isn’t she?
“She is – she’s actually sitting over there. (laughs) I’m half-Irish, half-English.”
So are you a Catholic?
“I am. I was born Irish-Catholic.”
How do you square this with the Church’s position on contraception?
“Well, I don’t take any religion too seriously, I sort of do my own thing. But I was born Irish-Catholic and English-Protestant.”
Do you go back to Ireland often?
“Yes. And if my aunt is listening, I love Catholicism! (laughs)”
What else is involved aside from fronting this today?
“There’s a few other things. There’s the launch of the website www.your-life.com. And this is taking place in China, Europe and Latin America. Though I’m not actually going to each launch. I’m really only involved at this initial stage.”
What was your sex education in school like?
“I mean, you just get some of the rudimentary basics of sex education when you’re about 13 or 14 in public schools. I went to school in New York and it was really just the basics. I think they taught us about condoms, but I don’t think they went into the pill so much, probably because they felt the girls were too young to be dating. So it was more about using condoms and being aware.
Was the sex education adequate?
“It’s not a perfect system, and I think that young people get their information from all sorts of different places like the internet, magazines, their peers, families. So it could be improved upon.”
What’s your stance on abortion?
“I’m pro-choice. I feel that every woman should have the right to choose what they want to do with their life. Hopefully you’ll never get in that position but, if you do, I’m pro-choice.”
Have you or any of your friends growing up ever found yourselves in the position of having an unwanted pregnancy?
“No. Actually I’ve been lucky like that, and I’ve never had that issue specifically. But I’ve known girls in school who got pregnant, that weren’t particularly friends of mine. It’s always an issue for young women worrying about getting pregnant, but I don’t personally know anybody who’s managed to – accidentally, I mean!”
Is it on your agenda?
“One day. I’m a career girl for now, but one day I intend to have children.”
Speaking of career, what are you up to these days?
“I’ve just finished a film called Assassination of a High School President with Bruce Willis, and that just wrapped in New York. And now I’m going to Canada to do a new movie. I’ve been doing movies for a while – I was doing them before The O.C. – so I’m pretty comfortable with them. So it’s really just a matter of finding the right projects for me now.”
You became a US citizen a year ago, didn’t you?
“Yeah. I’ve been living there almost my whole life. It was a mixture of things – convenience for a start, and also I’ve lived there my whole life so I thought I’d like to be an American citizen and have the right to vote. But I’ve kept my Irish-English citizenship so I just have all three now.”
Who will you vote for in 2008?
“I think Obama, but I’m not sure. I like him, but I like Hilary too.”
How do you think something like WCD will go down in the US with Bush – and therefore the moral majority – in power?
“Well, this campaign isn’t touching on America because the US has its own whole set of issues with abortion rights and that kind of thing. This is more about grassroots and getting to kids before they have child abortions, and teaching them about contraception.”