It’s the news that very few of us were shocked to hear: teen pregnancy rates rose in 2006, according to the latest from the Guttmacher Institute. But when it comes to addressing the problem, will real progress get made, or are parents, lawmakers and anti-choice interest groups still playing ostrich with their heads in the sand?
Guttmacher, always a fan seeing the bright side of everything, points to a possible "silver lining" from the cloud of news of a 7% of teenage girls getting pregnant in 2006.
The discouraging trends may actually have a modest silver lining.
They may provide those concerned about too-early pregnancy and
childbearing a fresh opportunity to make their case to policymakers,
parents, practitioners, and others.
addition, the extraordinary declines in teen pregnancy and childbearing
over the past two decades have proven to cynics that progress can be
made on tough issues.
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So what’s causing the rates to rise? The proliferation of abstinence only sex ed classes.
Guttmacher and others suggest the increase is
related to a focus on abstinence-only sex education programs under the
Funding for abstinence doubled from 2000 to
2003, to $120 million. By 2008, funding was at $176 million. Guttmacher
is an outspoken opponent of abstinence-only education.
"The focus on abstinence and the shifts in pregnancy occurred about the same time," says Guttmacher’s Lawrence Finer.
Of course, with the Obama administration considering restoring $50 million of the $150 million in abstinence only educational funding, the abstinence crew is fighting hard to point fingers to other causes for the first rise in pregnancy since 1990.
"Research unmistakably indicates that delaying sexual initiation rates
and reducing the total number of lifetime partners is more valuable in
protecting the sexual health of young people than simply passing out
condoms," said Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education
Association, who blamed the increase on several factors.
"Contributors include an over-sexualized culture, lack of involved
and positive role models, and the dominant message that teen sex is
expected and without consequences," Huber said. The Obama
administration is launching a $110 million pregnancy prevention
initiative focused on programs with proven effectiveness but has left
open the possibility of funding some innovative approaches that include
Perhaps new ways of looking at teen sex and its consequences is a good start. If so, Hollywood is beginning to make moves to showcase the less glamorous side of teen sex, as an episode of "Friday Night Lights" that focuses on abortion recently did.
Of course, regardless of numbers of teens getting pregnant, the right will always come up with the same answer: cut Planned Parenthood’s funding. In their minds, any penny that Planned Parenthood gets is penny going to abortions, regardless of the designation.
Abortion advocates often argue that the tax money Planned Parenthood
absorbs goes to its educational programs and not to abortions per se.
However, as any business knows, money coming in the door becomes part
of an operating budget. Tax money designated for "education" on a
balance sheet only means that monies from abortions are freed up for
Will we ever find the right way to talk to teens and reverse the upward trend in teen pregnancy rates? Baylor Teen Health Clinic has a good approach, and it’s as easy as ABC.
“Young people simply do not understand the risks associated with
sexually transmitted infections and HIV,” Smith said. “We talk to them
very candidly not only about pregnancy but also STIs and HIV.”
The teen clinic uses the ABC model, which urges teens to (A) abstain
from sex, but if they choose not to do that to (B) be faithful and (C)
use a condom.
“Abstinence is something that should be strongly considered but when
teens choose not to be, you have to give them a plan B,” Smith said.
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