Saturday, January 05, 2008
The following editorial appeared in the Kansas City Star on Wednesday, Dec. 12:
Starting in 1991, the teenage birth rate declined steadily for a decade and a half, showing that young people were getting the message to avoid parenthood before they were ready for it.
Yet a federal report released last summer said that sexual activity among high school students is no longer declining. After dropping in the 1990s, the numbers of young people who said they had engaged in intercourse leveled off between 2001 and 2005.
Now another federal report, from the National Center for Health Statistics, shows an increase last year in babies born to mothers from age 15 to 19. This comes after a 34 percent decrease between 1991 and 2005.
The 2006 hike is worrisome, and could signal a trend starting in the wrong direction.
Most experts have linked declines in the birth rate to school-based comprehensive sex education, which includes information about contraception. However, the Bush administration has championed abstinence-only programs, at the expense of contraceptive information. That's a mistake.
Most research shows that abstinence-only programs do not work for many young people who already are engaged in risky behavior. They need information that tells them how to protect against pregnancy and disease.
Last year's increase in the teen birth rate could be an indication that several years of federal outlays — at $176 million a year — for abstinence-only programs are failing young people. They apparently aren't having less sex. And a trend toward more babies born to teenage mothers may be starting.
Sex education programs should be geared toward making sure young people get all the information they need to prevent disease and unwanted pregnancy. That starts with schools offering comprehensive sex education classes.
(c) 2007, The Kansas City Star.
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