May 15, 2015
May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, but Colorado lawmakers didn’t seem to get the memo. On April 30, Republicans in the Colorado State Senate refused to fund an award-winning family planning program that sparked a staggering 40 percent drop in the state’s teen pregnancy rate. This initiative, which provided over 30,000 free or reduced-cost IUDs to low-income teenage girls, reduced teen abortion in Colorado by 35 percent and saved the state $5.85 in Medicaid costs for every $1 spent on the program.
If Republican lawmakers won’t support a measure that drastically decreased teen pregnancy and abortion while also reducing government spending, then what do they suggest as an alternative? Despite repeated studies showing the ineffectiveness and even potential harm of abstinence-only education, the religious right continues to push this approach as the only solution.
A recent study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 21 percent of millennials who attended public schools never received sex education. Of those that did, 51 percent found it only somewhat helpful and 37 percent said it was not helpful at all. That’s probably because the information students are given is alarmingly reminiscent of the infamous Mean Girls sex-ed scene in which the gym teacher instructs his students, “Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant and die.”
The blatant misinformation, fear tactics, and slut shaming perpetuated in these classes caught public attention in April when Alice Dreger, a sex researcher at Northwestern University, live-tweeted her son’s high school sexual education class, which she described as “terror-based.”
Republican lawmakers try to brush off critiques of abstinence-only education by pointing to the dramatic decrease in the national teenage pregnancy rate: between 1990 and 2010, the number of teenage pregnancies fell by an impressive 51 percent. However, this reduction is attributed to increased teen contraceptive use and comprehensive sex education, not the abstinence-only education they support. In fact, the states with the highest teen pregnancy rates were those with abstinence-only policies.
Despite all the evidence against abstinence-only education, Congress has spent over $1.5 billion in federal and state funds on these programs to date. Just last month, Congress allocated an additional $25 million to Title V of the Social Security Act, an 18-year-old law that already allots $50 million to states that preach abstinence.
In honor of National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, it’s time for lawmakers to realize that reducing teenage pregnancy requires access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive sexual education, not scare tactics and misinformation.