In conclusion, Watkins draws an important link between teen childbearing and poverty, which takes this discussion past morals and values and moves it into socioeconomic territory. Half of all mothers currently on welfare assistance "were teenagers when they had their first child," Watkins writes. Also, a) less than a third of teen mothers "ever finish high school"; b) the children born to teenage mothers "are twice as likely to raise their children in poverty"; c) the children of teen mothers "...are more likely to do poorly in school, more likely to drop out of school, and less likely to attend college"; and d) girls whose mothers were teenagers at the time of their birth are "...22% more likely to become mothers as teens themselves," thus completing the cycle and perpetuating the problem into future generations.
An article by Jennifer a. Hurley ("Promoting the Use of Birth Control Reduces Teen Pregnancy") reports that society is making some progress in slowing down teenage pregnancy notwithstanding some wrong-headed policies by the federal government. Albeit this piece is seven years old, it does point out how wrong the federal policy was that required states to show they were teaching abstinence (and denying birth control) prior to receiving sex education funding. Hurley points to the specifics that government bureaucrats required of states under this program that had a moralistic, ideological spin.
In order to receive funds, states (under the federal guidelines in place in 2000) must have a policy through which any sex education class at the high school level would push an "abstinence-only" philosophy. The schools must teach that abstinence from having sex "is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases," and other health problems associated with sexual activity. That same sex education program must convince the federal bureaucrats who are making decisions on grant funding that it is teaching teens that a "...faithful monogamous relationship in context of marriage is the expected standard" of sexual involvement for Americans. There is more, but suffice it to say, the requirements sounded like a page out of the Conservative Christians' handbook rather than a federal list of reasonable guidelines. Hurley also points out that regulations such as the ones mentioned above fly in the face of the facts regarding most Americans' sexual activities during their lifetimes. To wit, a national scientific study of adult sexual behavior quoted by Hurley showed that "...fewer than 7% of men and 20% of women age 18 to 59 were virgins when they married."
Further, the "abstinence-only law" put forward by the executive branch of the government would decree (if it were taken seriously by fair-minded average Americans) that "...it is wrong and harmful for the 74 million Americans who are gay, single, divorced or widowed to have sex." Do abstinence-only policies work? Two surveys alluded to by Hurley suggest strongly that they do not work. For example, a 1997 study by the University of Nebraska - which carefully reviewed and analyzed "more than two dozen abstinence-only programs - found that "the majority had no effect on the timing or amount of teen sexual activity." And another study, this one conducted by Education Now, Babies Later, a program involving 187,000 teens in California, found that abstinence-only programs "had no impact on the age at which teenagers began to have sex."
For her part, Hurley suggests a better approach would be to promote "abstinence-plus," which suggests that "you give weight to abstinence," and explain to kids that by abstaining from sexual intercourse a girl can be 100% certain of not becoming pregnant. Also, you point out how horrible it is to get herpes, how serious STDs can be, but you also talk "...about condoms and contraception in a 'balanced and accurate' manner," Hurley concludes.
The subject of that federal law regarding the teaching of abstinence-only in order to qualify for money from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) was addressed in a research article in Education Week (Samuels, 2006) ("GAO Opinion Renews Debate on Abstinence-Only Programs"). In fact, an opinion by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the congressional watchdog agency, spells out that by limiting grantees to those schools and states that promote abstinence-only, the Bush Administration is basically violating a federal law. That was the opinion of Gary L. Kepplinger, general counsel of the GAO; in reporting to the Congress Kepplinger stated that recipients of federal grants to promote abstinence-until-marriage sex education must by law include "medically accurate" information about condoms. If those grantees do not provide students with updated birth control and condom information, whether because of pressure from the Bush Administration or not, are in violation of federal law.
The National Abstinence leadership council - educators who support abstinence-only policies and provide curriculum in that regard - came out recently and announced that its members "were committed to medical accuracy in their programs," Samuels' article reports. The council states that its information comes from government publications and "other reputable sources." That having been said, William Smith, a vice president for public policy at the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), claims that abstinence education programs "continue to be rife with misinformation." States that get the money from HHS and go along with the program - even if they know federal law requires them to education students about condoms and birth control - "just dismiss it," Smith accused. "They don't seem to care," he added.
As for Horn with HHS, he asserts that the GAO legal opinion "is just that, a legal opinion," that HHS is not obliged to adhere to. But Smith issued a warning: "if they do not come into compliance with federal law, they will be in court."
What happens when a state pushes abstinence but refuses to offer birth control information and services to teens? Texas is a classic example of that mentality. Indeed, Texas is a state that has always considered itself independent and very sure of itself in terms of values, morality, and social mores. it's the only state where schoolchildren repeat the pledge to both the American flag and the state flag - the long star flag of Texas. But how are Texas parents and schools handling the matter of teen pregnancy? An article (Garrett, 2007) in the Dallas Morning News indicates that things are getting out of control. Indeed, while the teen birth rate is slowing across the United States, "Texas has made far less headway," Garrett writes, and that is "alarming public health officials and child advocates.
To wit, Texas today is ranked number one in the nation when it comes to teens having babies. The nonprofit group Child Trends reports that the latest statistics available - for 2004 - show that in fact 24% of Texas' teen births were not the girl's first delivery. In Texas, school officials, community leaders, some parents and religious leaders push abstinence-only sex education programs. Some experts are now asking serious questions about that approach, pointing out that between 1991 and 2004, the teen birth rate in Texas dropped 19% while in other states the teen birth rate dropped by far larger margins.
For example, in California during the same window of time, the teen birth rate dropped by a dramatic 47%. In California, schools teach abstinence in sex education classes but also contraception is fully explained and birth control methods - condoms - have been dispensed to boys and girls at no cost, with no parental consent required, in community clinics and doctor's offices, Garrett explains in the article.
California and Texas are worlds apart not only in geography but in political and religious cultural approaches to society and values, but they share a common dynamic; both have fast-growing immigrant populations. And both immigrant populations, Garrett continues, "are especially at risk of teen childbearing." Indeed Hispanics have the highest teen birth rates "of any ethnic group." In 2004, Hispanic girls between the ages of 15 to 19 accounted for "61% of teen births" even though the percentage of Texas teens that were Latino was only 39%.
In Texas, when George W. Bush was governor, he endorsed legislation that now requires schools to teach "abstinence as the 'preferred choice' for unmarried young people." it's clear that the Bush initiative has not succeeded to the level that it was hoped for. Meantime, when comparing California and Texas, one has to understand the universe of difference in approaches to social issues and problems. For example, first look at the data between the two states; in California the teen birth rate (2004, latest statistics available) is now at 39 per 1,000 girls between ages 15-19. That is down from 74 births per 1,000 in 1991. In Texas, the 1991 mark was 78 births per 1,000 girls (ages 15-19) and in 2004 that Texas data changed only slightly, to 63 births per 1,000 teenaged girls.
Now, with that juxtaposition spelled out, enter Cathie Adams, a leader in the Texas social conservative movement called "Eagle Forum." Adams…