Teens need both abstinence, birth control messages

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Last week, members of the Covington County Children’s Policy Council learned that our county ranks fourth in the state for the number of teens pregnancies.

There were 93 pregnancies and 75 live births among teens, measured as young women ages 10 to 19, according to the data collected by the Center for Health Statistics in 2012. To be fair, many of those babies could have been born to 18- and 19-year-olds who planned the pregnancies; the data doesn’t tell us. But the unfortunate truth is that many were born to teen moms who were and are single, and who will struggle financially and depend upon government aid.

In fact, data released this week showed that teen childbearing in Alabama cost taxpayers at least $167 million in 2010, according to an updated analysis from The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy; for the nation overall, teen childbearing cost taxpayers $9.4 billion.

The same source estimated that the 193,071 teen births in Alabama between 1991 and 2010 cost $4.9 billion.

Those are huge numbers, and huge burdens for our systems.

Most of the public sector costs are associated with negative consequences often experienced by the children of teen mothers, during both their childhood and their adolescent years. This includes costs associated with public health care (Medicaid and CHIP), increased participation in child welfare, and, among those children who have reached adolescence and young adulthood, increased rates of incarceration and lost tax revenue due to decreased earnings and spending.

The Children’s Policy Council, after hearing the data, began discussing ways to get into the schools and teach abstinence. This is an admirable goal; but it seems to use a broader approach is needed.

In a society in which even small children are bombarded with sexuality-laden messages daily, it is unrealistic to expect that teaching abstinence will solve the teen pregnancy problem. But an abstinence program coupled with sex education and access to birth control might have a greater effect.

It is heartbreaking to think of middle-school aged children giving birth, both for the childhood that ends and the baby-hood that begins. But the reality is, the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that nearly half of Alabama teens have had sexual intercourse in their lives; two in 10 teens have had four or more sexual partners; and nearly half of sexually active teens did not use a condom during their last sexual intercourse.

Our children need both messages – abstinence and protection. It is our duty as parents, aunts, uncles, church and community leaders to see that get them.