Teenage pregnancies have fallen to an all time low, a trend that improves the odds of young women attaining the education they pursue and succeeding in the job market. According to the CDC, there are now only 22.3 live births per 1,000 teenage girls annually, a 46% decline since 2007. Right wing policies have created fierce opposition to effective family planning opposition, but evidence-based sex education is winning, and it is freeing a generation of young women from the burdens of shame and unwanted pregnancies.
The Republican party has staunchly maintained their support for abstinence-only sex ed. Their platform states:
“We renew our call for replacing “family planning” programs for teens with abstinence education which teaches abstinence until marriage as the responsible and respected standard of behavior. Abstinence from sexual activity is the only protection that is 100 percent effective against out-of-wedlock pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS when transmitted sexually. It is effective, science-based, and empowers teens to achieve optimal health outcomes and avoid risks of sexual activity.”
However, abstinence education has be proven to be ineffective at preventing unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). According to Advocates for Youth, 88% of virginity pledge participants fail to maintain the pledge, and are more likely than their non-pledging peers to engage in risky sexual behavior and tend to have more partners once they start having sex.
Additionally, over a one year period, youth who receive abstinence-only sex ed are no more likely to stay abstinent or to use protection against STIs or unwanted pregnancy once they start having sex. Close to 30% of youth who receive abstinence-only education are unsure of whether birth control pills prevent STIs, or believe that birth control pills do prevent STIs.
There is striking evidence from Colorado to support the claim that access to birth control not only reduces teenage pregnancies, it also reduces teenage abortions. From 2009 – 2013 Susan Thompson Buffet Foundation supplied the State of Colorado with a grant to cover free long term contraceptive implants or IUDs. These long term contraception methods have ‘actual use’ failure rates of under 1% compared to 5% with the pill, because women can forget to take it. Long term contraception requires no effort on the part of the woman for years.
During this time, the rate of teenage pregnancies fell by 40% and the rate of teenage abortions fell by 42%. Officials believe that every dollar spent on the long-term birth control initiative saved $5.85 of Medicaid money, which covers almost three-quarters of teenage pregnancies and births. Use of long term contraception is rising all over the country, but the average rate of use in America as a whole is just 7%, compared to around 20% in Colorado.
Unfortunately, teenagers in many states do not have access to information about safe, effective methods of contraception. 26 states require sex ed in schools to stress the importance of abstinence, 19 require instruction on the importance of only engaging in sexual activity within marriage, just 13 states require that information in sex ed classes is medically accurate, and only 2 states prohibit the promotion of religion in sex ed.
When governments bow to pressure from the GOP and the religious right, women and children suffer. Teenage mothers struggle to complete their education and often raise their children in poverty. Less than 40% of women who have a child before the age of 18 receive a high school diploma by the age of 22. Over two-thirds of teenage mothers live in poverty after they leave their parents home, and less a quarter of them receive child support payments. Their children do poorly in school.
Republicans need to stop banging on about ‘family values’ and start supporting policies that are actually good for families. This includes good sex education that teaches teens how to family plan. Telling girls to be abstinent or else they will be unwanted like a dirty piece of chocolate, or lose their ability to be emotionally involved in relationships like a dusty piece of tape, does not help them. It denies them the information they need to make informed choices and protect themselves from the dire consequences of an unintended pregnancy. Teenage pregnancies did not fall as a result of abstinence education, they fell because parents and Democrats are standing up to Republicans and demanding teenagers’ right to information.
Marisa completed her undergraduate degree in 2013 at the University of Wisconsin with a double major in creative writing and media studies. She is an advocate of progressive policies and focuses her interests on gender equality and preventing sexual and domestic violence.