The United States has managed to achieve a stable reproductive rate. That is, as of 1999, our fertility rate is 2.0, meaning that for each two adults we are having two children. (Carter, 1999) This has no doubt been accomplished because we have learned about how to apply population control within our families. However, it does not mean the United States will never have any problems with population growth in the future. The fertility rate doesn't take immigration into consideration or the fact that many people are living many more years than they used to. It makes sense, then, to continue to concern ourselves about population growth.
The Planned Parenthood Federation has worked for many decades to make birth control available for all who want it. Their mission statement says:
Planned Parenthood believes in the fundamental right of each individual... To manage his or her fertility, regardless of the individual's income, marital status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, national origin, or residence. We believe that respect and value for diversity in all aspects of our organization are essential to our well-being...we further believe that such self-determination will contribute to an enhancement of the quality of life, strong family relationships, and population stability. (PPFA, accessed 2002)
Birth control has been part of human life for thousands of years. An illustration on the wall of a cave in France shows a man using a condom. (PPFA, accessed 2002). According to this source, medicine has known that condoms can help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STD's) since the 18th century.
Since the invention of the condom, however, science has provided humankind with a wide variety of options for birth control. They can be divided into barrier methods, conception blockers and surgical approaches.
Barrier methods include condoms but also diaphragm, cervical caps and sponges. Each approach has benefits and drawbacks. Some men may prefer that the woman use a diaphragm, but they must be obtained by prescription and carefully fitted. Sponges may not be as effective as other barrier methods, and neither diaphragms nor sponges protect against sexually transmitted diseases. Intra-uterine devices must be inserted and removed by a physician, and can sometimes cause complications. (PPFA, accessed 2002)
Condoms have a couple of distinct advantages. They prevent pregnancy effectively. (PPFA, accessed 2002) In addition, they help protect against the acquisition and spread of disease. They can also be used if sex is decided upon impulsively. They are small, portable and easily purchased without a prescription. However, they must be handled carefully, and even with care taken, condoms sometimes break.
Other approaches interfere with conception. These approaches include birth control pills, implants put under the skin (Norplants®), Depo-Provera®, and intra-uterine devices Depo-Provera® is a shot given to the woman every 12 weeks. Like birth control pills and Norplants®, it prevents ovulation. Implants require the woman to come in and have the rods inserted under the skin, and the woman has to remember to go in every 12 weeks for the shot with Depo-Provera®. A surprising number of women who sincerely do not want to become pregnant still forget to take their birth control pill on a regular basis, and the fact is that these approaches use potentially powerful drugs. In some people they can have mild to severe, or rarely, life-threatening, side effects.
Birth control pills may have extra benefits. Some actually reduce acne, and in some women, birth control pills decrease the severity of PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) and cramps.
Surgical choices include a vasectomy for the male or tubal ligation for the female. Both are considered permanent although they may be occasionally reversible.
Providing Sex Education
Such goals can only be met when sex education is available for all people of reproductive age. They hold classes, and they do individual counseling with women and couples who come to them for services.
In addition to Planned Parenthood's efforts, many schools now provide sex education for their students. These programs vary greatly. Some begin as early as kindergarten, some begin in later elementary school, and some are woven throughout the children's school career. The most effective sex education alerts sexually active students to the various kinds of birth control available so that each couple can choose what is best suited to their needs. Some school-based programs emphasize abstinence, which will protect the student from sexually transmitted diseases as well as pregnancy.
Sex education may be one reason the numbers of teen pregnancies have declined in the past ten years (Koshar, 2001). According to Koshar (2001), teen pregnancies cost our economy seven billion dollars per year. Only one third of these mothers get a high school diploma. In some education programs, the teens are given a "baby surrogate." This can as simple as a bag of flour. But some programs have dolls controlled with computer chips that cause the babies to cry. The students can do various things to "comfort" the child and end the crying, but as in real life, these efforts won't always work. And, as in real life, some of these episodes will occur in real life. The students are teamed as "couples," and both male and female are required to care for the baby. The computer chip reports whether the doll was cared for as a real baby should have been or not. (Koshar, 2001)
Sex education also has to include information about sexually transmitted disease (STD's), or young people may mistakenly think that birth control methods help prevent the spread of STD's. While some help prevent this, others do not.
According to Koshar (2001), there are a variety of reasons for the decrease in teen pregnancy. She mentions that more teens are choosing to abstain from sex than in the past. In addition, more of those who are sexually active are using birth control, although she also notes that 20% of unwed teen mothers intended to get pregnant for a variety of reasons. Some teens who were previously sexually active choose to not take that path in a later relationship. She also points out that there's more information available for parents so that they can talk to their teen children in an intelligent way and help guide them to make better choices in their interpersonal relationships. No doubt some of these gains have been made due to the efforts of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
The best sex education, of course, begins at home. Young people need to know what their parents' views are regarding sex before marriage. Most parents will choose to discourage sex at an early age, and many families and religions emphasize no sex outside marriage. Nevertheless it will be helpful if parents will provide birth control information if their teens do become sexually active.
Population and the Quality of Life
Although we have had a temporary downturn, the American economy has been vital and growing. Many more families are able to save money for the future or invest, providing a sound financial future for themselves and their children. Smaller families, and families that don't start out as single teens having babies, are likely to be more stable financially.
In addition to improving lifestyle and family economics, the statistics show that babies born to mothers past their teen years are more likely to be born healthy. When a pregnancy is planned, the mother and father can make sure they are in good health before conceiving, and get early prenatal care. For instance, prenatal vitamins are crucial during the early months of pregnancy (Koshar, 2001). This crucial early period of prenatal care often doesn't take place in unexpected pregnancies. (PPFA, 2002).
Making Responsible Choices
Not everyone agrees with the goal of maintaining a low birth rate. Carter (1999) reports, "Couples with disposable incomes, higher education, access to contraception and a wife in the workforce have interests that compete with raising children. Demographically speaking, 'pregnancies delayed -- to some extent -- are pregnancies denied,' writes American Enterprise Institute scholar Ben Wattenberg in his book, The Birth Dearth."
But this is apparently the goal of those using birth control to decide what the size of their family will be. Except for surgical approaches, birth control is a temporary intervention that any couple can set aside whenever they choose. Delaying childbirth allows potential parents to focus on preparing for adult life first, by completing high school, vocational training or college without the struggle of juggling the financial and time demands of child rearing and day care. Parents who hold stable jobs will have better health benefits for all of their family, including their children. It could be argued that responsible adults delay having children until they are certain they can be financially responsible for them.
Planned Parenthood has a series of recommendations for couples who intend to conceive. The steps they recommend emphasize the need to avoid conception by accident.
First, they recommend that the woman see her doctor to make sure she has no conditions that may complicate the pregnancy, such as high…