Every year the high school health teacher invited two different speakers to talk to his classes about contraception. One speaker was from Planned Parenthood. The other was a representative from the local Right to Life group. The health teacher always said that he invited both in an attempt to be “fair.” I knew was also an attempt to mollify all parents in the community.
Frankly, I never understood the fairness part because one person explained how contraceptives worked while the other talked about pregnancy. As I think about it now, however, maybe it wasn’t about fairness, but about subtly reinforcing the importance of contraception.
It turns out that maybe he was on to something, as USA Today reports that teen pregnancies are at their lowest level in nearly 70 years according to data provided by the federal government last November. Every racial and ethnic group saw the lowest rates ever reported for girls 15-19.
Laura Lindberg, a senior research associate with the non-profit Guttmacher Institute in New York has examined the data and says her research shows that teen sexual activity has not decreased, but the use of contraceptives has increased. Lindberg suggests that not only has the message about using contraceptives taken hold among teens, but also that attitudes have changed about wanting to have babies early. She also notes that “the general pattern over time has been declining abortion rates paralleling declining pregnancy and birth rates.” One would think this is good news for both Planned Parenthood and Right to Life.
I once worked in a district that had a teen parenting center where teens could leave their babies while they attended classes, returning during the day to feed and play with them during study halls and lunch. It was a brave initiative for this rural upstate district, and every year various groups protested its funding, arguing that the district was “making it easy” for kids to have babies out of wedlock. The administration and the board stuck to their guns and funded it every year, insisting there was nothing tempting to other kids about the responsibility teen parents had to demonstrate every day. In addition, keeping kids in school until they graduated meant it was more likely they could eventually support their child. The parenting center eventually closed not because of lack of funding, but because the numbers of teens having babies dwindled. More recently we heard similar objections to reality TV shows about teen moms – that girls would want to be like them. Not so, it turns out.
We all know that the use of contraceptives especially as tied to insurance has been a hot topic with church leaders and political leaders, most of whom don’t have to worry about becoming a teen mom or having an unwanted pregnancy later on. The new data should support the argument that having knowledge of and access to contraceptives benefits teens and society in general.