Teen pregnancy prevention: it’s time to recognize the failure of abstinence-only programs

Candice Nordine, Executive Director of Project SIGHT (Strengthening Identity and Growing in Hope Together), had a letter in last week’s Nfld News. It includes:

candice nordineBristol Palin is fortunate to have her family’s support… Unfortunately, not enough attention is  given to the public policies that support these families or for programs for effective pregnancy prevention. This year alone, more than $200 million will be spent on federally subsidized abstinence-only programs — programs that show no evidence of working. Programs that do work are under-funded and do not get the wide spread support they deserve.

Since 2006, the rates of teen pregnancies in the U.S. have shown the first increase in 16 years, after a steady longtime decrease. This comes at a time when abstinence-only funding also increased and the requirements for using the funds became more stringent towards “abstinence-until-marriage” language.

Project SIGHT (“the only teen pregnancy prevention program in Rice County”) is funded by the United Way.

82 Comments

  1. Rob Hardy said:

    I blogged about this issue a few weeks ago.

    There seems to be a conservative fear that responsible public health measures—sex education that discusses birth control; the life-saving HPV vaccine, which met opposition when it was first introduced—will encourage sexual activity. Hormones and ignorance are a far greater danger. Ignorance and misinformation are no substitute for moral development. By all means, encourage abstinence, but don’t abdicate the adult responsibility to help teens make informed and morally responsible decisions based on the most complete and accurate information available.

    Thank you, Project SIGHT, for your good work in the community.

    September 23, 2008
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  2. Peter Millin said:

    It is not the governments or the schools job to educate my children when it comes to sex, this is a parent prerogative. Schools should limit themselves to the “biological” aspect of sex education and leave the morality of abstinence versus birth control out of that discussion.
    The same goes for HPV. Too little is known as to the side effects and it only covers a small % of the possible viruses.

    September 23, 2008
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  3. Rob Hardy said:

    I agree, Peter, that it is the responsibility of parents first to educate their children to make responsible choices concerning sex. I disagree, though, about the role of schools in that education. Teen pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases are public health problems. They have an impact on our communities, and I think we have a responsibility as communities to address them. Not all parents are equipped to have the conversations with their children that you and I might have. Children hear about sex from their peers in any case, and I would prefer them to have accurate information and informed discussions in the context of a sex-education class.

    In Milwaukee, “the city’s relatively high teen parent rate results in a depleted and less-educated labor pool from which Milwaukee-area employers can choose; contributes to higher health care costs for employers; and results in a less desirable business climate.” According to a South Carolina study, “rising teen pregnancy rates often mean other social problems end up getting worse. Teen mothers are more likely to drop out of school without graduating and end up in poverty. [The study] estimates taxpayers spent $156 million to pay for the consequences of teen pregnancy in 2004.” These social problems—problems that affect entire communities—go back, at least in part, to the failure of sex education as it is currently delivered.

    So I do think that it’s appropriate for public schools to deal with issues of public health, and to help parents educate children to make good choices as morally-responsible members of their larger communities.

    September 23, 2008
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  4. Barry Cipra said:

    It might help get a handle on the scope of the teen pregnancy problem to quote from a summary of the Centers of Disease Control’s study, which I assume is the original source for Candice Nordine’s reference to the 2006 uptick (I can’t find anything more recent):

    “About one-third of girls in the United States get pregnant before age 20. In 2006, a total of 435,427 infants were born to mothers aged 15–19 years, a birth rate of 41.9 live births per 1,000 women in this age group. More than 80% of these births were unintended, meaning they occurred sooner than desired or were not wanted at any time. Although pregnancy and birth rates among girls aged 15–19 years have declined 34% since 1991, birth rates increased for the first time in 2006 (from 40.5 per 1,000 women in this age group in 2005 to 41.9 in 2006). It is too early to tell whether this increase is a trend or a one-time fluctuation in teen birth rates.”

    One note: The 2006 uptick is in birth rate, not rate of pregnancy, for which the most recent CDC report covers only the years up to 2004.

    One other note: HPV is now on the CDC’s schedule of adolescent immunizations.

    September 23, 2008
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  5. Peter Millin said:

    Also from the CDC website

    A vaccine can now protect females from the four types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers and genital warts. The vaccine is recommended for 11 and 12 year-old girls. It is also recommended for girls and women age 13 through 26 who have not yet been vaccinated or completed the vaccine series.

    For those who choose to be sexually active, condoms may lower the risk of HPV, if used all the time and the right way. Condoms may also lower the risk of developing HPV-related diseases, such as genital warts and cervical cancer. But HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom—so condoms may not fully protect against HPV. So the only sure way to prevent HPV is to avoid all sexual activity.

    Individuals can also lower their chances of getting HPV by being in a mutually faithful relationship with someone who has had no or few sex partners. However, even people with only one lifetime sex partner can get HPV, if their partner was infected with HPV. For those who are not in long-term mutually monogamous relationships, limiting the number of sex partners and choosing a partner less likely to be infected may lower the risk of HPV. Partners less likely to be infected include those who have had no or few prior sex partners. But it may not be possible to determine if a partner who has been sexually active in the past is currently infected.

    September 23, 2008
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  6. Peter Millin said:

    More information from the FDA

    http://www.fda.gov/WOMENS/getthefacts/hpv.html

    Highlights

    What makes a person more likely to get HPV?

    Most people who have sex may get HPV. You are more likely to get HPV if you have:

    * sex at an early age,
    * many sex partners, or
    * a sex partner who has had many partners.
    ——————————————————————
    Can I lower my chances of getting HPV?

    * You can choose not to have sex (abstinence).
    * If you have sex, you can limit the number of partners you have.
    * Choose a partner who has had no or few sex partners. The fewer partners your partner has had — the less likely he or she is to have HPV.
    * It is not known how much condoms protect against HPV. Areas not covered by a condom can be exposed to the virus.
    ——————————————————————
    How long are you protected?

    Since the vaccine is new, more studies need to be done. For example, the FDA does not know if you will need to have a booster after a couple of years.
    ——————————————————————-

    I know the “hippie generation” has a hard time with this, but the era of free love is over..JUST DON’T DO IT.

    September 23, 2008
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  7. David Ludescher said:

    Rob: Tell me when, if ever, teen sex is a morally responsible decision.

    September 23, 2008
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  8. Rob Hardy said:

    David L., I think that you and I both believe that abstinence is the best choice for teenagers. It is the choice I made as a teenager, and it’s the choice I would prefer my teenage sons to make. But I don’t think we help them to make that decision if we refuse to have a full and frank discussion of the issues. We also have to be realistic. Human beings moments of weakness and moral failure. I would rather not have those moments end in an unwanted pregnancy.

    September 23, 2008
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  9. Britt Ackerman said:

    Here’s a good article from the Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy. I like the points the author makes in analyzing the question “Does chastity education teach sound prudential and moral lessons? How does it treat the actual interests of teenagers, and from what moral resources does it draw the duties and rights that underlie its prescriptions?”

    http://www.publicpolicy.umd.edu/IPPP/rkf.htm

    September 23, 2008
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  10. Barry Cipra said:

    Peter writes:

    “JUST DON’T DO IT.”

    There is little doubt as to the effectiveness of abstinence at preventing pregnancy (there being just one reported case of immaculate conception in the last two thousand some years). What is very much in doubt is the effectiveness of abstinence-only education at achieving its intended goal.

    Actually, there isn’t much doubt there, either. The jury came in about a year and a half ago: A ten-year scientific study authorized by Congress in 1997, around the time it began funding a-o ed, found no significant effect of abstinence-only education in promoting sexual abstinence. In short, money down the drain.

    I would think you, Peter, of all people, would be exorcised by such a multi-billion dollar waste of taxpayer money.

    September 23, 2008
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  11. Barry Cipra said:

    Oops, I meant “exercised” (in the sense of angered to action), not “exorcised.”

    September 23, 2008
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  12. Peter Millin said:

    Barry,

    If at all, government should give educational facts and not “preach” or prefer on way or another.
    My preference is abstinence of course, does that make me blind to certain facts? No.
    Despite what some might think I used to be a teenager too. That shouldn’t prevent me as a parent trying to teach the virtues of abstinence, while having an open and honest discussion not only about contraception but the consequences of an early pregnancy…..both with my daughter and sons.

    This is not my governments job, this is my job as a parent.

    September 23, 2008
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  13. john george said:

    As far as abstenence only being taught in the public school system, I don’t believe it can make that much difference in behavior among teens unless it is coupled with a comprehensive curriculum of moral applications in all areas of life. When I was growing up, when one of my classmates became pregnant, there was a shame associated with the event. In the 60’s, with the “free love” movement, it was determined that shame was a detrimental emotion for adolescents to experience. Therefore, with the advent of values clarification courses, shame was thrown out as a motivating factor. In its place, a good (whoever can define that term) self image was raised up as more important. A good self image is important, but when you remove the moral teachings as the culprit for creating a poor self image, you miss the point. The reason a person felt shame was because they had violated a moral code. To remove shame, teaching obedience is a pretty simple remedy. It’s being discussed on anotther thread, but I have yet to hear any of the Wall Street idiots who brought down the system express any remorse over it. Perhaps they have, but I have not read of it. I think a little shame in this debacle could have been preventive, but that is just my opinion.

    I have the perspective of three of my daughters and a daughter-in-law who have or are teaching in public middle or high school. I heard their opinion of the standard sex education curriculum. They were upset with the asumption of inevitability in teen sexual behavior. My one outspoken daughter expressed it this way. These kids are not a bunch of animals driven on by uncontrolable instincts. They can learn self control. Her assesment of the material was that there was no teaching of a higher moral ground. The kids were going to have sex, so we may as well just give them condoms and pills and provide abortions. What hope does this give a young person who is really interested in living differently from the world? I appreciate David L’s. assesment of teen sexual activity. When is it ever a morally responsible decision? Do those who advocate teen sexual permissiveness really think it is right?

    By the way, I think what we are talking about here is conception control, not birth control. An abortion is birth control. The other means are just what they are called- contraceptives. And, abstinence is the only 100% effective means to guard against pregnancy and STDs that I know of. The problem is getting enough societal support to actually bring about a different behavior amongst the population. We need to change the way we live.

    September 23, 2008
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  14. Jane Moline said:

    David L: in #8 you asked Rob to tell you when teen sex was ever a morally responsible decision.

    Well–I had teen sex and I made a morally responsible decision. And, although I am very special and extraordinay 😉 –I think that there are MILLIONS of people who were once teenagers who also had sex and also were morally responsible, and some that are still teenagers and have teen sex and are making morally responsible decisions.

    Speak for yourself–don’t judge morality so harshly–and, this is a tough one– don’t confuse your religious beliefs with morality. The church may help guide you moraly, but it does not define morality. (Although it may for its followers–but others chose different beliefs.)

    Studies prove that abstinence only education does not work. Why are we discussing this?

    September 23, 2008
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  15. Curt Benson said:

    The Project SIGHT website that Griff linked to above has some interesting information, including this:

    “From the Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention, and Parenting.

    According the the 2008 Rice County Adolescent Sexual Health Report, 12% of females and 19% of males in the 9th grade have had sex. While 40% of females and 53% of males in the 12th grade have had sex.

    When it comes to using contraceptives, 30% of females and 35% of males in the 9th grade always use birth control. Of 12th graders, 72% of females and 64% of males always use birth control.

    Out of the 9th grade population who are sexually active, 45% of females and 48% of males rarely or never use birth control. 14% of females and 19% of males in the 12th grade rarely or never use birth control.

    In 2006 there were 75 reported pregnancies and 58 reported births to females under the age of 19.”

    And Nordine in her letter to the NFN wrote:

    “This year alone, more than $200 million will be spent on federally subsidized abstinence-only programs — programs that show no evidence of working. Programs that do work are under-funded and do not get the wide spread support they deserve.”

    I’d like to know which programs do work.

    September 23, 2008
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  16. Anne Bretts said:

    An editor colleague of mine in Duluth once worked on its all city school reunion and did a little digging. He found that by comparing graduation dates and dates of kids’ births, he could show that a pretty consistent percentage of girls were pregnant when they graduated. The busy home for unwed mothers in Duluth also gave proof to the failure of abstinance only policies — back when the rule was a lot more harshly enforced. Research on colonial times indicated that about a third of women were pregnant when they married, and married in their teens and were dead in their 40s.
    Fact is, Mother Nature is hell-bent on reproduction, and we have screwed up her timetable. Children are marrying much later in life but going into puberty earlier and earlier, leaving all those reproductive hormones raging for a decade or more. How could anyone be surprised that an inexperienced virgin, overwhelmed by emotion and Mother Nature, might have five minutes of weakness in 10 years or more? They crash cars, break legs in dumb skateboarding accidents, come home with tattoos — and they make babies.
    We need to get real, help them as much as we can and pray or chant, or do an animal sacrifice or whatever ritual you use to give you the illusion that you can wish away the danger.
    (Yes, I was just kidding on that last line…)

    September 23, 2008
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  17. Sex is every where in our society, we don’t want our teenagers to have sex but we allow the media, the music industry, Hollywood, magazines, the internet, advertisements, books, computers games to expose our kids and teenagers to sex every day.

    There is no right answer to this problem.

    September 23, 2008
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  18. john george said:

    Anne- Yout touched on a characteristic of adolescents that has been talked around but not about so far on this thread. It is the need to determine whether their parents are telling them the truth or not. Much of this behavior appears to be rebellion, but I think that testing the boundaries is not, in and of itself, rebellion. Choosing to go against the directions of their parents is a dangerous thing to do as the young peoples’ horizons expand. They are relating more directly with the world around them, and, therefore, need to know how to discern things that are dangerous. Being real and open with teens developes trust. Involving them in setting boundaries and being honest about our fears helps them determine a correct path to follow. This is the key we need ot concentrate on- how to get them to take a safe path, especially regarding sexual activity.

    Sorry, Jane M. I do not believe the throw out the rules permissiveness of the 60’s and 70’s was moral. There must be some standard of morality. Otherwise, we just have anarchy. It is this immoral permissiveness that opened us up to a greater threat of STD’s, some fatal. The fact that we are dealing with individuals who are unique in themselves seems to indicate that there may not be a uniform approach that will work. I’m just speculatiing, here, but my experiences teaching my own children lead me to believe this. That being the case, it would appear to me that parents/guardians, who have a relationship with and a responsibility for adolescents, may be the best teachers. Unfortunately, too many of them check out on this because of hidden transgressions in their own lives. Single parents have an even greater challenge. It seems there was some curriculum I read about in the past that actively involved the parents in the sex education courses. If anyone remebers this, I think it would be interesting to check out.

    September 23, 2008
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  19. Rob Hardy said:

    There are some interesting guidelines for comprehensive sex education set forth by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), which (rightly, I believe) approach the whole issue of sex education in the context of beliefs and values, with an emphasis on respect, dignity, and responsibility.

    September 23, 2008
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  20. Jane Moline said:

    Hmm–I say that I had sex as a teen and John George claims I am advocating promiscuous sex. Sorry, John. All I am saying is that teenagers are not all about promiscuous sex–when they have the right information, they can make choices for themselves.

    It is great that you want to involve the parents in the public school education process. Unfortunately, some of the kids are not so keen on involving their parents–but those teens still deserve to have the facts.

    Abstinence only sex education does not reduce or deter teen pregnancy. Other programs do. Lets go with the other programs. If your teen has already received wisdom from their parents, going through a health class will be no big deal–and no big surprises.

    September 23, 2008
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  21. john george said:

    Jane- I echo Curt’s question- what programs are successful? The reports I have read indicate that abstinance only programs are no better than those that do not advocate abstinence. Seems there are some proposals out there to mix abstinance into a conprehensive sex education program. This seems like wisdom to me. The reports I got back from my daughters indicated that the materials they were using in their schools did not address the possibility that a teenager could be taught to have self control. This is the point I am trying to make. I think Rob’s comment in post 19 is good. I’m encouraged that someone like this is running for the school board.

    I don’t know why I throw my two cents into the mix. My kids are all grown and married. I guess my motivation is to give some parent who is struggling through this phase some hope that things will get better as long as they don’t give up. Keep the communication channels open. It will reap great benefits down the road.

    September 23, 2008
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  22. David Ludescher said:

    Jane: I cannot think of how having sex as a teenager is a good idea, i.e. responsible decision. There is little hope that any “sex education” is going to have a substantial effect when the education is focused upon pregnancy prevention.

    September 23, 2008
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  23. Paul Fried said:

    If abstinence-only programs have been proven ineffective, the responsible thing to do is to try what works.

    Part of the problem, at least among the Catholic population (of which I am one), is this whole thing about sex and sin: Some grow up believing that it’s a greater sin to be unwed, and use birth-control of some kind to avoid pregnancy, than it is to be unmarried and get pregnant.

    Yet clearly, if one is not mature enough to have and raise a child, having sex and getting pregnant is not an example of responsibility and virtue. Perhaps this is, in fact, the greater sin from a religious view, and the lesser evil would have been to have used birth control.

    Instead, some Catholics seem to think sin is a kind of check-list: If you had sex outside of marriage, that’s X number of sin-points against you, and if you also used birth control, that adds more sin points. If you didn’t use birth control, but had sex outside marriage, then — what? — your “sin” score was lower, so you’re holier somehow? Using birth control only adds to your “sin” score, and never reduces it? This is exceptional in Catholic thought, which sometimes justifies even killing in self-defense. But birth control is always sin. Hmmmm….

    Off of the radar is the idea that conceiving a child one is not ready or able to raise might be “sinful.” Maybe this can be traced back to male property rights, and times when wives and children were treated like cattle, belongings. I don’t know.

    If it is a fact that some teens will be sexually active, do we help them by denying them birth control, which results in more teen pregnancies? Or is birth control, for those who refuse the abstinence option, the better compromise?

    As for those who claim morality should not be taught in public schools, it’s already taught there–and for good reason, and often to good effect. Teachers and para-professionals break up fights on the playground. Classes discuss current events. Staff give consequences when kids pick on each other. To demand silence on questions of morality (as it relates to sex) in public schools –where everyday ethics and morality are already taught –would be highly unnatural and counter-productive.

    But whose morality will be taught? Will various approaches be discussed, including abstinence, but more than that? I hope so. Will parents who would prefer to discuss such issues with their children be able to have their child excused from the class? I hope so.

    Or will a conservative school board impose on a larger population a kind of censorship on the topics of birth control and morality? I hope not.

    September 24, 2008
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  24. Anne Bretts said:

    Paul, that was brilliant, and an accurate summary of why I quit the church. Making sex dirty and sinful is such a classic Catholic, and classic male position, so to speak. Men aren’t sent to homes for unwed fathers, aren’t tossed out of school, aren’t even forced to pay child support, much less wake in the middle of the night to care for a child. It is so easy to demand that women take responsibility…
    David, I think you’ve forgotten what it was like to be young and healthy and in love…and told to wait until you’re 25 and walking down the aisle. There’s a difference between a 15-year-old teen and a 18-year-old woman ready to make a responsible choice in her life. Abstinence only programs are popular because they allow those in charge to have proof when they are disobeyed. Babies should never be proof of failure, and women should be protected and given support in advance, not sent out into the world to prove their purity.

    September 24, 2008
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  25. Anne Bretts said:

    Using birth control doesn’t preclude abstinence, any more than using seat belts means you have permission to drive your car into a tree. Why would you tell your kids to use seat belts and deny them access to effective sex education?

    September 24, 2008
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  26. Jane Moline said:

    David L: I am not immoral nor am I irresponsible. I am insulted by your statements.

    I would say that a 13 year old would be too immature to make a responsible decision to have sex. When you get to the 16 year old, it becomes a question of maturity. Some 16 year olds are mature enough to make a responsible decision to have or not have sex. We would like all of our children to wait and abstain–however we cannot control them.

    I agree that abstinence education–including a discussion of morality–should be included in ALL sex education classes–including the advantages of abstinence over birth control–but that birth control must also be included. It is Abstinence-ONLY that is failing.

    September 24, 2008
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  27. Rob Hardy said:

    Paul asks, “Whose morality?” I do think we have to be careful about generalizing from our own personal experience and making ourselves the standard by which others are judged. I abstained from intercourse as a teen, but that doesn’t necessarily give me the right to stand in judgment over Jane, who didn’t. She has a different story, and her decision to have sex fit into a different story of moral development. I don’t want to be entirely relativistic and say that, ethically speaking, anything goes. I believe in avoiding harm and considering the consequences to other people of my actions. I also believe in listening to and understanding the stories of other people before rushing to moral judgment. This is especially important to me since I am a man. I cannot get pregnant. I am unlikely to be raped. If I were to be raped, I would not get pregnant. Because I cannot have an unwanted pregnancy, abortion is purely theoretical in my personal case. I wish that no one ever had to choose to abort a pregnancy. But my conscience prevents me, from my position of male biological privilege, from trying to take that choice away from women. My small-town Presbyterian upbringing inclines me to certain values, which are probably quite conservative, but my humanistic education inclines me to listen to and value stories that are different from my own. The conservative in me wants to say, in response to David’s question, “Never!” The humanist in me raises a hand in warning and says, “Listen! There are stories other than your own.”

    I suppose all this may come from growing up with a Republican father and a Democratic mother.

    September 24, 2008
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  28. Peter Millin said:

    Teaching abstinence only is about as wrong as passing out condoms in school. Between the two extremes we have to come up with a better way.

    Should we teach children about contraceptives, of course we should. Should we promote and teach abstinence of course we should.

    Children follow more our behavior more then they do our words. Coming from Europe I have more liberal views on sexuality then most people have here.
    One thing that still baffles me in the US, is the fact that we allow violence to go rampant on TV and Movies, but get all holy when there is some sex involved? Seems a bit strange to me.

    Maybe I should have said “legislating morality” instead of teaching morality.

    September 24, 2008
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  29. john george said:

    Jane- I agree that a 13 year old is too immature to make a responsible decision about beginning sexual activity. The unfortunate thing is that many of them are. In fact, there are 11 and 12 year olds making these decisions. I have not seen any progress made in the last decade in seeing this age group deminishing their sexual experimentation. If anything, it is on the increase. If I had a 12 or 13 year old around, you can bet I would be very involved in their activities and what they were being taught at school. That is why I believe it is imperative that parents be actively involved with their teenagers, not in a smothering way, but in a real face to face way, if that makes any sense. One opinion I have about the percentages of 17 year olds involved in sexual activity is that they started earlier, in the 13 to 14 year range. In our society, as someone mentioned above, the possibility for marriage is getting pushed farther and farther into the 20’s. I think we need to be very realistic about the ten years or so that young people need to exercise self control. That is why I think it is important that it be taught. The disconnect I see is that there are fewer and fewer restraints in our society. Sometimes, it seems like trying to swim up Niagra Falls. It is very hard to direct a teen down a road of chastity when many of their friends, out of respectable families, do not have these restraints.

    September 24, 2008
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  30. David Ludescher said:

    I don’t agree that teenage pregancies are “problems” which need to be eliminated. The beauty of a new life, whether intended or unintended, far overshadows the inconveniences associated with its conception.

    My perception is that the strongest advocates for a women’s right to choose abortion are the weakest advocates for a woman’s right to choose birth, especially for teenage mothers giving birth.

    That such a high percentage of teenage mothers choose to raise their own child creates it own social issues; but I would never consider those chldren to be problems.

    September 24, 2008
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  31. norman butler said:

    What’s the problem here? The sex, the age, the conception, the babies, the diseases? Or must it be considered an inseparable bundle of interdependant issues?

    September 24, 2008
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  32. john george said:

    Norman- Your post 31, the sex & the age precipitate the conceptions, the babies and the diseases. If the first thing at the age we are discussing was curbed, there would be a drop in the last three things. It seems pretty clear to me, but I’m pretty simplistic in my approach. I believe we need a change in our lifestyle.

    September 24, 2008
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  33. Anthony Pierre said:

    david said in #30

    My perception is that the strongest advocates for a women’s right to choose abortion are the weakest advocates for a woman’s right to choose birth, especially for teenage mothers giving birth.

    ———–

    Wouldn’t you agree that pro choice people prevent more abortions than the pro life crowd? And the pro life crowd has caused more abortions?

    seems silly to be so strongly against something and then not preventing it.

    September 25, 2008
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  34. David Ludescher said:

    Norman and Anthony: I just think there is something odd, even morally bankrupt, about viewing a pregnancy as a failure. There is something even more odd about promoting the right of a woman to choose, and then calling her decision to keep and raise the baby a public health problem.

    September 25, 2008
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  35. Rob Hardy said:

    Griff’s guidelines for discussion state: “It is best if you bring a spirit and language of inquiry with you when you visit and restrain your desire to only promote a point of view that is already formed.” This is what I try to do. I am not pro-abortion. Few people are. I would like to see a society in which every pregnancy is wanted and every child is cherished. Unwanted pregnancies do occur. Sometimes the pregnancy ends in an abortion. Sometimes it ends in the birth of a child who is not cherished as it should be, who is neglected and impoverished. This is, yes, a problem—for the child and for society. It seems to me that sensible sex education (that includes the facts about both abstinence and contraception) might be part of the solution to that problem. Prevention of an unwanted pregnancy is an infinitely better solution than abortion.

    It would be nice, David, if you would refrain from accusing people of moral bankruptcy. This does not contribute to respectful inquiry. I think that most of us are concerned with moral responsibility and with the health of our children and our society, and aren’t merely trying to score rhetorical points.

    September 25, 2008
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  36. Anne Bretts said:

    Rob, thanks for your wise words.
    David, with all due respect, we who believe in sex education just want girls to have the same opportunities as their brothers and boyfriends and classmates. They need to have the opportunity to practice abstinence and still have the protection they need should they fail for five minutes or so in that 10 or even 15 years between puberty and marriage. That’s why we call it practicing abstinence. Almost nobody has it mastered.
    A child is a blessing, but a child having a child is not a blessing for the baby, the mother or the grandparents. If you had been raised by a single mother and had a baby at 17, it is unlikely that you would have finished high school, let alone earned a law degree and established a practice. Would you trade your education, career and family for the blessing of having a child at 17? Thankfully, that wasn’t a choice you had to make. (I’m not talking about the choice of abortion, but the choice between preventing a pregnancy and taking the risk of pregnancy?)
    There is something very odd about making girls who are too young to vote or drink sign a contract bear the responsibility of risking pregnancy. And we’re not just letting them risk it, we’re denying them the information that would save them. It seems a betrayal of our role as parents. As I said before, we make our kids wear helmets, use seat belts, take vitamins and have vaccinations, yet we allow girls to risk becoming pregnant? By this logic, why would we use seat belts? We’ve taught kids to drive safely, so they shouldn’t need them. If they die, they die.

    September 25, 2008
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  37. David Ludescher said:

    Rob: Perhaps morally bankrupt was inartful. But, as applied to a system of thought, I think it is accurate, and helpful to reveal, what I think, is the error of prevailing thought. Let me explain.

    The “problem” to which you refer is a child who is not as cherished as she should be, and is neglected and impoverished. My solution to that problem is for the mother (and society) to cherish their pregnancy and child, if it happens.

    There are three decision points regarding teen pregnancy:
    1. Should I have sex?
    2. Should I use birth control?
    3. Should I have the child?

    The prevailing thought seems to be that numbers 1. and 3. are individual decisions which carry no greater overall societal overtones. That is, most people assume that 1. and 3. don’t really matter for society – they are valueless in the sense that to form a moral opinion is judgmental. Hence, whether or not one has sex and whether or not one has a child is strictly and individual, and non-judgmental decision.

    But, this same thought pattern seems to say that it is irresponsible of society not to teach that birth control must be used when having sex. The assumption is that the teen will have an uncherished, and ultimately burdensome child. That assumption is not only almost inaccurate (witness the number of mothers who love, want and keep their child), but is also very judgmental and burdensome for teenage mothers. Ultimately, it makes it even more difficult for them.

    September 26, 2008
    Reply
  38. Peter Millin said:

    David,

    This is a point of view that I have never considered, great point.

    September 26, 2008
    Reply
  39. Rob Hardy said:

    David: There is a fundamental logical flaw in your reasoning. You seem to misunderstand the meaning of choice. Choice means that there is a range of alternatives to choose from. The ability to choose a safe, legal abortion does not preclude the ability to choose to give birth and lovingly raise a child. Personally, I would rank four possible choices like this (from best option to worst option):

    1. Abstain from sexual intercourse until you are prepared to deal responsibly with the possible consequences of your action. Ideally, abstain until you are in a stable and loving relationship, and are in a position to support and nurture a child.

    2. If you choose to have sex in circumstances other than those mentioned above, use contraception.

    3. If you don’t use contraception, or if it fails and you get pregnant, carry the child to term and either raise it as lovingly and responsibly as possible, or offer it for adoption. This seems to be the choice you are advocating, David. In which case, I hope you are compassionate enough to support universal health care and other taxpayer-funded social programs that will better support many of those children and their young mothers. I agree that we should respect life and the choice of motherhood. So let’s do everything we can as a society to support those things.

    4. Abortion should always be the choice of last resort. It should be safe, legal, and rare.

    What I do not want is a return to the pre-Roe days of lethal illegal abortions, self-induced with knitting needles, or performed by unqualified back-alley practitioners. I do not want a single young girl to die of hemorrhaging or sepsis because her uterus has been perforated by a curette in a botched illegal abortion. Abortion is a tragedy. Illegal abortion was a double tragedy, since it often took the mother’s life as well as the child’s. I recommend reading Leslie J. Reagan’s When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973 (University of California Press, 1997) if you doubt the horror attendant upon illegal (and therefore unsafe) abortion.

    I can see nothing “morally bankrupt” about working, through responsible parenting and sensible sex education, to encourage choices #1 and #2, while working as a society to support mothers who have made choice #3, and leaving choice #4 open as a rare last resort.

    September 26, 2008
    Reply
  40. Holly Cairns said:

    Our district 659 sends out parental forms. We sign and then the kid is dismissed from the learning. Or we sign and they participate, I can’t remember. But no one is forced to learn sex ed. You can breathe a sigh of relief. The parents do have control after all.

    Since we sign, they might as well teach more than “abstinence is the best policy.” Right? Kids should learn about pregnancy and hardships, best std and pregnancy prevention, your body and how to take care of it, etc.

    I’m for that, anyway.

    BTW, I’m not pro-life or pro-choice. I think we should ‘save the mother’ and allow abortions to be legal. Mothers who didn’t want pregnancies died in back allies. Remember? Of course, we now have birth control and back in the ’60’s we didn’t. Who’s read some Sanger? Good stuff.

    September 26, 2008
    Reply
  41. john george said:

    Rob- Your comment, “… Abortion should always be the choice of last resort. It should be safe, legal, and rare…” is an excellent point. I agree wholeheartedly. The unfortunate thing I have seen happening in this country since Roe vs. Wade is the last discription- rare. There have been over 50 million babies aborted since the ruling of this law. It seems a little unlikely that these were all for unwed mothers threatened by poverty. When this ruling was passed down, the story at that time is that abortion would not become a method of birth control. It has. Most abortions are done out of convenience rather than need.

    Just a perspective from a different country, I have visited in central Siberia, and in Russia, the government will pay for abortions but not for contraceptives. Therefore, abortion is the most used birth control method in that country. I met some women that have had 15 or more abortions. This is not considered of any consequence. It might be noted that the country is basically atheist.

    The other interesting perspective in this is the imminent failure of Social Security. I read an analysis (I think the source was the Heirtage Foundation) that if even two-thirds of the 50 million babies had been allowed to live, we would not have the deficit in the Social Security program. These babies would have grown up into productive workers and would have contributed to the Social Security fund. We are facing the largest portion of population in history that will be entering into retirement. Unfortunately for us, there is a shortfall of workers to contribute to the SS program. We have essentially shot ourselves in then foot, but then, that is just my opinion, and something for another thread. Sorry.

    September 26, 2008
    Reply
  42. David Ludescher said:

    Rob: I agree with most of your comments. But, I think teens are getting very mixed messages from sex education. Some of it is just confusing, and some of it is so non-judgmental (i.e. morally bankrupt) that it doesn’t help teens make good choices.

    The abstinence-only programs are failures because they teach that sex is to be avoided without addressing the strong and natural desire to procreate; hence, intercourse is a failure. The teach-them-contraception only method fails because it teaches that pregnancy is a failure.

    What we don’t teach teens is that pregnancy is actually nature’s success. The whole purpose of sex in the natural world is to reproduce. This “thing” is biologically human. It has all the chromosomes it needs to look just like the parents.

    We should also tell our children that the Supreme Court has given them a choice. They don’t have to treat this “thing” as human because it doesn’t have any legal rights.

    That would be a much more complete and accurate sex education.

    September 26, 2008
    Reply
  43. Peter Millin said:

    We should also tell our children that the Supreme Court has given them a choice. They don’t have to treat this “thing” as human because it doesn’t have any legal rights.

    David I hope you are kidding……

    September 26, 2008
    Reply
  44. David Ludescher said:

    Rob or anyone else: I would be interested to hear your comments regarding what we should teach our children about pregnancy. Or, should we just stop our “sex education” at contraception, and let kids be on their own? If we do teach that abortion should be rare, what education do we provide about when abortion is the best option? “It’s up to you and your doctor” doesn’t seem to provided much guidance.

    September 27, 2008
    Reply
  45. Jane Moline said:

    David: The supreme court did not give anybody choice. They clarified that the federal government has a limited ability to force laws on women’s bodies. I think you need to sit in on a sex education class–it is much more than telling them to avoid contreception. Your continual urging that we should codify your religious beliefs overshadows your judgment on what is happening in sex education.

    Most people agree with you, David, that students need to hear all of the information about sex–that regardless of whether they get pregnant, they may not recover from what could be emotionally devestating. The damages of “casual sex” or promiscuous sex should be discussed–but there we go again–some may take that as tacit approval of “non casual” sex when it is not.

    So why can’t we agree that we are never going to agree on abortion–but we can agree on appropriate sex education.

    Sex education is not about abortion–it is about having facts about how your body works–and it should include discussions about hormones and the overriding EVOLUTIONARY need for life to reproduce–and overriding SOCIAL needs to not breed indiscriminately.

    September 27, 2008
    Reply
  46. Nathan E. Kuhlman said:

    David Ludescher and John George:

    You both present some fascinating arguments. I feel extremely fortunate that neither of you holds much sway over how I must live my life. I feel also extremely grateful to the various unnamed educators who made my present situation possible by promoting a variety of strategies to avoid making kids. For birth control, usually my personality is sufficient. However, it’s also nice to have the security of a backup plan.

    As an aside, I find a surprising juxtaposition between people’s yammering elsewhere about ‘freedom,’ and their apparent desire to force parental responsibilities onto others. Ultimately the individual knows whether becoming a parent is the right decision; it strikes me as a bit collectivist to impute some obligation to spawn in order to repopulate the social security pool, carry on the American race, or some such rationale.

    September 27, 2008
    Reply
  47. Peter Millin said:

    Schools should discuss options of contraceptives free from any bias as part of a curriculum. Which doesn’t include passing out condoms.
    Since abortion is legal it should be discussed in an “as a matter of fact” subject without bias and prejudice.
    Discussing premarital sex and it’s implication should be part of the curriculum free of any prejudice.

    Moral issues surrounding the options above are to be the parents responsibility.

    September 27, 2008
    Reply
  48. john george said:

    Nathan- I hope you are also grateful to your mother that she did not consider you an inconvenience or a mistake. 🙂

    September 27, 2008
    Reply
  49. Rob Hardy said:

    I think, Peter, that it’s difficult to talk about issues like sex, pregnancy, contraception, and abortion without bringing our values to the discussion. Moral education may primarily be the responsibility of families and churches, but we can’t help but bring our values into the public sphere. I think the discussion we’re having here on LocallyGrown shows that many of us have difficulty understanding the values of others and engaging in productive public discussions around value-laden issues.

    Separation of church and state is a pillar of our Constitution, but that shouldn’t mean that in public schools we can’t, in a spirit of inquiry, discuss our values and beliefs. As it is, we harden our beliefs and values in private, then bring them into the public sphere and bash each other over the head with them. We need to learn instead to have productive public conversations with each other about divisive issues.

    September 27, 2008
    Reply
  50. Peter Millin said:

    Rob,

    Of course we cant discuss these type of issues without bringing in our values and beliefs.
    We should encourage discussions amongst the students, my point was that the school itself shouldn’t take a side either way.

    September 27, 2008
    Reply

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