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MN2020 - Let’s Get Real on Sex Ed.
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Let’s Get Real on Sex Ed.

December 10, 2007 By John Fitzgerald, Education Policy Fellow

The Centers for Disease Control reported last week that the U.S. teen birth rate rose for the first time since 1991.

This information from the CDC is a harbinger of dire events. At least, that's the impression you get after the findings are put through the meat grinder of the "abstinence only" sex ed. public relations machine.

Tom Prichard of the Minnesota Family Council wrote Thursday, "The sexual revolution of the 1960s and its progeny today, as seen in these CDC figures, has been a disaster. It's left in its wake a trail of broken hearts, disease, sickness, and even death. Our kids and society deserve better."

Hmmmm.

Pritchard cites these figures from the report: "In Minnesota, the percent of teen births increased from 6.8 percent in 2005 to 7 percent in 2006 and the out of wedlock birth rate increased from 29.8 percent in 2005 to 31.7 percent in 2006. Nationally, the teen pregnancy rate increased from 10.2 percent to 10.4 percent and out of wedlock birth rates increased from 36.9 percent to 38.5 percent during the same time periods."

Again, hmmmm. The CDC report shows the national teen pregnancy rate actually dropping between 2005 and 2006. For 10 to 14-year-olds, the birth rate per 1,000 women stayed at 0.2 in 2005 and 2006. For 15 to 19-year-olds the rate dropped from 17 to 16.7. The birth rate for unmarried women did indeed rise between 2005 and 2006, and his Minnesota statistics are accurate.

The report doesn't offer Minnesota's 1991 statistics with 2005 results, but nationally, the number of births to 10 to 14-year-olds dropped 50 percent. The births for 15 to 19-year-olds dropped 34 percent.

It seems the progeny of the sexual revolution are doing reasonably well.

Pritchard goes on: "I believe the rise in teen pregnancy and out of wedlock birth rates is attributable to the 'anything goes approach' to sex we see the teen culture. And now it's being pushed in schools through unhealthy comprehensive sex education programs which only makes (sic) matters worse."

But that's not what most Americans believe. An Associated Press survey released last month offers these tidbits:

  • Sixty-seven percent of Americans support giving contraceptives to students. Sixty-two percent said they believe providing birth control reduces the number of teenage pregnancies.
  • Younger people were likelier to consider sex education and birth control the better way to limit teenage pregnancies, as were 64 percent of minorities and 47 percent of whites. Nearly seven in 10 white evangelicals opted for abstinence, along with about half of Catholics and Protestants.
  • Forty-nine percent say providing teens with birth control would not encourage sexual intercourse and 46 percent said it would. Women are likelier than men to think it will not encourage sexual intercourse, 55 percent to 43 percent.
  • The 67 percent of Americans who favor providing birth control to minors include 37 percent who would limit it to those whose parents have consented, and 30 percent to all who ask. Minorities, older and lower-earning people were likeliest to prefer requiring parental consent, while those favoring no restriction tended to be younger and from cities or suburbs. People who wanted schools to provide no birth control at all were likelier to be white and higher-income earners.
  • Asked when young people should first be allowed to get birth control, ages 16 and 18 drew the highest responses, while only a third chose age 15 or younger. Women's selections averaged just over age 16, slightly higher than men, while young people and westerners preferred younger ages than others.

Meanwhile, the Star Tribune reported in October that Minnesota refused to take $500,000 from the federal government for abstinence-only education. That drops the program's budget to about $300,000 from nearly $2 million in 2004.

Since 1998, the Minnesota Department of Health has used state and federal money for a statewide program called Minnesota Education Now and Babies Later. That program, aimed at 12- to 14-year-olds, provided grants to teach some aspects of abstinence.

The Star Tribune reported that the federal government changed the rules to require all such programs to teach that sex outside of marriage was psychologically and physically harmful. The messages had to be directed toward everyone ages 12 to 29, officials said.

Minnesota officials told the newspaper that such messages were inappropriate for 12- to 14-year-olds and opted not to take the federal money.

During the 2007 Legislative session, lawmakers wanted to require comprehensive sex education in Minnesota. Gov. Tim Pawlenty threatened a veto and the provision was withdrawn.

Let's recap: Teen birth rates up slightly this year from last year, but since 1991 the rates are down a whopping 50 percent for 10 to 14-year-olds and 36 percent for 15 to 19-year-olds. A majority of Americans say it is OK to give condoms to students. State leaders understand what the governor does not - that abstinence is a piece of a greater puzzle and needs to be used in concert with comprehensive sex education in the public schools.

Pritchard's carping about the sexual revolution is wrong: It didn't bring us to disaster; it is making us sober participants in society. Minnesotans have the same goal, fewer pregnant teens.  We know that abstinence is good, but only if we're realistic and include other birth control measures in the picture.

 

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