2014

20 August 2014: Education key to drop in teen pregnancy rate

Education key to drop in teen pregnancy

It’s that time of the year—school’s back in session—and with it will come the incessant, oftentimes acrimonious debate over the state of public education.

Regardless of the position one takes on the permanent state of testing used to determine “successful” schools, there’s one area in which the measurement of success is indisputable: the teen birth rate.  It’s plummeting thanks in large part to proactive, common sense approaches many high schools are taking in providing counseling and services to sexually-active teens.

On July 3rd, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced a state health initiative designed to reduce teen birth rates has led to a 40 percent drop in five years, from 37 births per 1,000 to 22.  It has done so, according to the Denver Post’s Electa Draper, by providing more than 30,000 contraceptive devices at low or no cost.

In addition, the abortion rate from 2009 to 2012 dropped 35 percent in counties serviced by the imitative.

According to the Office of Adolescent Health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. teen birth rate was 61.8 births for every 1,000 adolescent females in 1991, compared with 26.6 births in 2013.  As the report qualifies though, the U.S. teen birth rate is higher than that of many other developed countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom.

So great progress, but more work needing done.

Draper reports Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment Director Dr. Larry Wolk said Colorado’s program “has helped thousands of young women avoid unintended pregnancy by using long-lasting, reversible contraceptives, which has reduced social and economic costs to the state including birth defects, low birth weight, elective abortion, maternal depression, increased risk of child abuse, lower educational attainment by mother, delayed prenatal care, high risk of physical violence against expectant mother and reduced rates of breastfeeding.”

The drop, Draper notes, is not due to “curbing teen sexual appetites,” which I’m sure have remained constant since time immemorial, but education.

“It’s a foolproof method,” said Susan Levy, executive director of the Boulder Valley Women’s Health Center. “You have to educate them first, and then you have to give them access to birth control. Then take away the possibility that the woman can use it incorrectly or inconsistently.”

To be successful, Levy notes, clinics have to remove the barriers of cost and parental notification.  Easier said than done: In our puritanical society, sex remains the most uncomfortable topic for parents to discuss with their children.  Nevertheless, their acts can have consequences beyond breaking some subjective moral code, which in the end, we all end up paying for.

“I’d love to think there is no longer a debate over this,” Lisa Olcese, executive director of Colorado Youth Matter, which has provided training for educators to advance the well-being of teen parents for 30 years.

The news, however, is causing hyperventilation and harrumphing voices among adults suffering from memory loss regarding their teen-years experiences.

“For government to distribute contraceptives to teenagers without parental consent bypasses this critical parental right and responsibility,” said Carrie Gordon Earll of the fundamentalist Focus on the Family.

“Colorado law prohibits a teenager from getting a tattoo without parental consent. For the last several years, the legislature has considered bills to ban teen use of tanning beds, yet as I understand it, teens can be inserted with an IUD (intrauterine device) without parental knowledge.

“Something is wrong with this picture.”

Indeed.  What’s wrong is Earll and like-minded ideological and religious kin have an erroneous conception about minors’ constitutional rights that are not, as the Supreme Court ruled in Tinker v. Des Moines (1969), “left at the schoolhouse door.”

Colorado is one of 21 states, the Guttmacher Institute points out, that “explicitly allow all minors to consent to contraception services.

“Over the past 30 years, states have expanded minors’ authority to consent to health care, including care related to sexual activity.  This trend reflects U.S. Supreme Court rulings extending the constitutional right to privacy to a minor’s decision to obtain contraceptives and concluding that rights do not ‘come into being magically only when one attains the state-defined age of majority.’

“It also reflects the recognition that while parental involvement is desirable, many minors will remain sexually active but not seek services if they have to tell their parents. As a result, confidentiality is vital to ensuring minors’ access to contraceptive services.”

A most practical gift that keeps giving from parents to their adolescent and even pre-adolescent children: a healthy, frank, and non-moralizing discussion on sex.

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