Better Late Than Never: Mississippi Sex Ed Bill Addresses Rising Teen Birth Rates

Micah Steffes

A Mississippi sex ed bill may finally address the rising teen birth rates. But is it too little too late?

Editor’s Note: Please welcome Rewire’s new blogger, Micah Steffes! Micah is joined by three other young bloggers – Joe Veix, Kathleen
Reeves, and Elisabeth Garber-Paul –  each of whom will offer their
perspectives in our Real Time Blog every week.

Awhile ago, it came out that Mississippi had the dubious honor of being crowned state with the highest teen birth rate (mind you—not teen pregnancy rate, teen birth rate). So with this news, the Mississippi state senate is actually considering doing something constructive about it:

“Sen. David Jordan, D-Greenwood, wants to create a pilot program that would give the state Health and Education departments the power to make choices about sex education, including which school districts and which grades to teach it in. Those agencies would also decide what the curriculum should be. He submitted Senate Bill 2291 to do so. It’s been referred to the Education and Appropriations committees.”

It’s great that instead of lamenting a statistic, the powers that be are taking it to heart and actually considering the statistic a result of the fact that most Mississippi school districts have pledged allegiance to abstinence-only sex-ed (that’s such an oxymoron).

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But I have one caveat: Why do we have to talk about alternatives to abstinence-only programs in such a way that disregards the actual happiness, health, and safety of students, and only after the teen pregnancy stats pop up to freak us all out? Because by that time, the debate usually takes on the dimensions of either a cautionary tale about the poverty and less than lustrous future of teen mothers (note: never teen parents) or the economic burdens of teen pregnancy.

Case in point: The Sun Herald jumps right on the bandwagon.

“Lawmakers also note the cost of teen pregnancy to the state is high. Besides the costs associated with the births, they say many teen parents often find themselves living a life of poverty as they raise their child. Those without much support from their parents might have trouble paying their bills and may depend on the state’s social services. Many don’t finish high school, much less go to college.

A 2006 study from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy estimates in 2004, Mississippi spent at least $135 million dealing with teen childbearing. That same year the entire country spent a total of about $9.1 billion. Of Mississippi’s expenses, 49 percent came from state taxpayers and 51 percent came from federal taxes.”

Let’s talk about the actual lives of teenagers who are having less-than-informed sex, whether or not it ends in (gasp) teen pregnancy. Let’s talk about the other dimensions of all of this, before it becomes and economic or moral problem. Let’s talk about happiness and safety. And here’s a revelation! Let’s talk about STIs, baby. Because as another article points out,

“Sexually transmitted diseases are a persistent problem for the state’s youth, according to data from the Department of Health. In 2007, there were 432 new cases of chlamydia in youth ages 10-14. The number was 8,444 for ages 15-19. New cases of gonorrhea were 118 and 2,641, respectively. There were 36 new HIV cases in the 15-19 age group and none among the younger teens."

If anything, this should have been the headline that jump-started the conversation. At least Sen. Jordan has it right: “I don’t want people to die at 30 because of AIDS.”

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