Last week the CDC reported a rise in the national teen birth rate for the first time in 14 years. The percent of births to teenagers nationally rose by 3% overall – the first increase in the teen birth rate since 1991.
Statistically, that’s pretty significant.
The US has the highest teen birth rate in the developed world. However, for more than a decade the U.S. was able to proudly tout the fact that the teenage birth rate was steadily declining. We can’t guarantee access to healthcare but we’ve been successfully working on preventing young women from becoming young mothers. Right?
So what changed?
I think it’s a fundamental lack of access that’s the problem. It’s not just the 46 million uninsured Americans that our nation should be hanging its head at – most Americans can’t go to the doctor. And most teens can’t get straight answers or medically-accurate information about contraceptives because of abstinence-only education, and access to abortion is eroding at an alarming rate with restrictive laws like the Hyde Amendment.
The problem with abstinence-only education isn’t the abstinence, it’s the only. A government sponsored study released earlier this year, not the first of its kind, found federally-funded abstinence-only programs are ineffective and provide teens with exaggerated failure-rate statistics if they do discuss contraceptives. Why would a young person use a condom if they think it’s not going to work? And where else are they going to get that information? I only graduated from high school six years ago and I heard more buzz about birth control and condoms in junior high than I have at any point since. Aside from seeking out specific news sources or occasionally coming across an ad in a magazine, I rarely hear about ways I can protect myself during sex. Where is the discussion? Where is the information? Has the AIDS scare died? Has it become a problem we’ve moved to other nations, neglecting to recognize that American youth are still vulnerable, are still going to have sex, and are still at risk for pregnancy and STIs, including HIV and AIDS?
I’m getting a little tangential. Condom use is on the rise. But I still worry that the CDC’s announcement will only be repeated year after year, for years to come.
There’s a stigma surrounding abortion and if teens don’t even have access to those services – clinics are closing, and teens rights are being restricted – than what are they to do if they do find themselves pregnant?
Because there’s no easy answer we need to be teaching teens how to protect themselves, we need to be providing them with easy access to all available options with regard to their reproductive health, and we need to be providing young parents with the tools they need to succeed. It’s a little overwhelming to see how multi-faceted the problem is, but hopefully with all the buzz the CDC announcement has created we will see that this is not a hopeless problem but one with many different solutions and a lot of areas and avenues for people to involve themselves and their communities in creating positive change.
Sarah, Project Coordinator of the Duvall Project