For the first time since 1991 teen birth rates in the United States rose last year interrupting a 14 year steady decline, according to a report from the CDC released yesterday. The teen birth rate rose 3 percent, which Stephanie Ventura, head of the Reproductive Statistics Branch at the CDC Center for Health Statistics calls "quite a large one year increase." The increase was seen across all racial and age groups, except for kids aged 10-14 years.
The findings only add fuel to the fire started several months ago when Mathematica Policy Research released their report detailing the failure of the Republican abstinence-only sex education policy that has been funded to the tune of $1.5 billion over the last 10 years.
The policy does not provide funding to educate teens about the proper and safe use of contraceptives, let alone provide funds to make contraceptives easily available to teens who are obviously engaging in sexual activity. These facts make Robert Rector's reaction in the New York Times to the report simply laughable:
Robert Rector, a senior research fellow with the Heritage Foundation, said that blaming abstinence-only programs was “stupid.” Mr. Rector said that most young women who became pregnant were highly educated about contraceptives but wanted to have babies.
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Rector's claim that young women are highly educated about contraceptives rings even more hollow when heard next to the sound research of leading scientists who told the President and Congress in an open letter admonishing abstinence-only education last week that education about contraceptives in U.S. schools is declining:
During the period of increased state and federal emphasis on abstinence, declines have occurred in the percentage of teachers in U.S. public schools who teach about birth control and the number of students who report receiving such education. In December 2006, Lindberg and colleagues found that the percentage of teenagers who had received formal instruction about condoms and contraception declined from 89% in 1995 to 70% in 2002.
And do we need researched evidence from scientists to prove that all teenage girls who become pregnant did not become so because they wanted to? The few pregnant teens I have known were certainly not planning on being pregnant for their junior and senior years of high school.
The New York Times also notes that the report comes on the heels of this year's State of the Union address when President Bush trumpeted the success of the abstinence-only sex education policy, specifically citing dropping teen birth rates:
President Bush noted the long decline in teenage pregnancy rates in his 2006 State of the Union address, saying, “Wise policies such as welfare reform, drug education and support for abstinence and adoption have made a difference in the character of our country.”
How can congressional Democrats (or Republicans for that matter!) continue to ignore the harm that these failed policies, and the resulting increase in sexual health ignorance among sexually active youth in our country, have inflicted? Astonishingly, earlier this summer Democrats, even after the release of the Mathematica report, voted to increase spending on abstinence only education by $27 million dollars.
You can help in the effort to raise awareness of this failure by spreading the word about Rewire's sex education digital video contest, Fresh Focus, in which we ask youth to create a short digital video detailing their sex-ed experience and how they would like to see it improved.