Read it and weep, conservatives. The overall US teen pregnancy rate has fallen six percent and it’s all thanks to contraception knowledge and access. Meanwhile, in abstinence-only red states, the rate remains high as the Republican war on comprehensive sex education and birth control rages on.
The National Center for Health Statistics reports that the national teen pregnancy rate now stands at 29.4 births per thousand teens 15-19 years of age. The 2012 rate is the lowest on record in the 73 year history in which the government has collected the data. According to CDC surveys of high schoolers examined by Dr. John Santelli, the trend downward is the result of increased usage of contraception.
“There is not much evidence of a change in abortion use and not much change in sexual activity,” Santelli says. “What we have seen is greater availability of much more effective birth control methods.”
Because of an increase of contraception usage, teen girls are preventing themselves from having an unwanted pregnancy that heightens their chances of having an abortion, ending up in poverty, or quitting school. And why are teen girls increasing their usage of contraception? Since taking office, the Obama Administration has made a point of increasing access to contraception. Not only do we have the Affordable Care Act, that mandates insurance companies to cover contraception as part of health plans, the FDA has made birth control available over the counter to women as young as 15. But that’s not all. It’s not enough to have more access to contraception, teen girls also have to know about contraception, which is where comprehensive sex education comes in. Comprehensive sex education teaches teens how to protect themselves if they choose to have sex. When teens are armed with the knowledge to protect themselves, they are more than likely to do so.
Take California for example. Earlier this summer, the state released a report showing that teen pregnancy has dropped across the state and credited comprehensive sex education for the reduction. One Oklahoma school district hopes to copy California’s success. For decades, Oklahoma schools have focused solely on abstinence-only, which has resulted in the fourth highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation. Tulsa Public Schools has recognized the failure of abstinence-only and has decided to switch to comprehensive sex education to combat teen pregnancy. But while things are changing a little in Oklahoma and the overall teen pregnancy rate has dropped across the US, red states still have high rates.
According to ThinkProgress,
“The CDC found that the lowest rates of teen births are in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Vermont — which each have rates under 17 births per 1,000 teen girls — while Arkansas and Mississippi have the highest rates at about 50 per 1,000. Overall, the highest rates of teen births continue to be concentrated in the South.”
Additionally, Southern states also have higher rates of STDs.
The reason why red states have such high teen pregnancy and STD rates is because many of them refuse to institute comprehensive sex education in their education systems. For years, conservatives have been rabidly obsessed with forcing schools to teach abstinence-only. This is very unfortunate and irresponsible because as ThinkProgress points out, “since abstinence-only courses often present misleading information about contraception, a full 60 percent of young adults underestimate birth control’s effectiveness and are more likely to skip it because they don’t believe it will make a difference.”
But the latest teen pregnancy rate reports from California and the federal government combined with the results of CDC surveys proves that contraception is an effective way to prevent diseases and pregnancy and is far MORE effective than the failed abstinence-only policies enacted by Republicans in red states due to pressure from Christian fundamentalists.
Clearly, abstinence-only programs haven’t stopped teens from having sex. Nearly half of all teens surveyed by the CDC have had sexual intercourse, and the percentage has remained steady for years despite the kind of sex education taught. So if teens are having sex anyway, it makes far more sense to at least prepare them to protect themselves. Abstinence-only policies are religious-based policies that don’t work. Comprehensive sex education does work, and the facts prove it. Red states can no longer deny that comprehensive sex education is more successful than abstinence-only. And the fact remains that when women have the knowledge and ability to protect themselves, the number the unwanted pregnancies declines, which means the number of abortions declines as well. One study shows that when contraception is free, the abortion rate falls dramatically.
If conservatives truly want to reduce the number of abortions, they should WANT to mandate comprehensive sex education in schools. They should also work to make contraception less expensive and more accessible instead of waging war against it. The facts are clear. Contraception and proper sex education works. The abstinence-only policies that Republicans delusionally and stubbornly stand by, do not. And red states only hurt themselves by refusing to accept reality.