Alleged pact puts new focus on teen pregnancy
America's teen pregnancy rate is rising for the first time since 1991, worrying experts.
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But finding a solution is contentious; there is considerable disagreement over whether educators should emphasize safe sex or abstinence.Skip to next paragraph
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Despite spending more than $1 billion since 1996, federal "abstinence until marriage" programs have not taught young people to be sexually responsible, says David Landry of the Guttmacher Institute in New York, a think tank on sexual and reproductive-health issues. A nine-year Mathematica Policy Research study released in 2007 also found that such programs had no effect on teen sexual abstinence.
The federal abstinence programs fall short in mandating that instructors mention contraception only in terms of its failure rates, Mr. Landry says. "The misconception of many is that simply talking about using contraception promotes sexual activity."
He supports "comprehensive sexual education," which includes encouraging youth to delay sexual activity and providing medically accurate information about contraception.
Yet those who advocate for abstinence education – which teaches teens to abstain from sexual activity – are equally adamant. In an April report, the Heritage Foundation in Washington detailed 11 studies of abstinence programs that yielded positive findings. The authors censured the government for "spending over $1 billion each year to promote contraception and safe-sex education – at least 12 times what it spends on abstinence education."
The same debates now echo in Gloucester, a blue-collar city with deep Catholic roots. Last month, two officials at Gloucester High's health center resigned in protest because the local hospital refused to distribute contraceptives to students without parental consent. Mayor Carolyn Kirk said Monday the school committee would review a city policy prohibiting the distribution of birth control in schools as it revamps Gloucester's teen-pregnancy policy.
Gloucester residents are also divided.
"As far as birth control pills, they should not be given out at school," says parent Pam Cilluffo, adding that they should be available at home. "Condoms should be distributed at school."
Gloucester graduate Barry Sousa thinks that while more sex education would be beneficial, the problem begins with family dynamics. "My feeling is that these kids don't have a good family life," he says.
Teen pregnancy rates may be surging because officials are diverting resources to social services that seem more pressing, says Albert of the pregnancy-prevention campaign.
Annette Dion, a private music teacher in Gloucester, agrees: "There's plenty of money but [city officials] aren't spending it well."
"There's still an awful lot of questions we need to answer as a community," says Ray Lamont, editor of the Gloucester Daily Times. "We are getting bogged down in the details of how to define 'pact' when the real issue is that 17 girls decided to get pregnant. We need to find out why they got pregnant."