New York program sets example as much-needed solution for high teen pregnancy rates
Published: Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 31, 2012 21:10
The United States has the highest rate of teen pregnancies among comparably wealthy and developed countries. The United Kingdom, which has the second highest rate of teen pregnancy after the United States, has nearly half the number of births at 23 births per 1000 girls compared to 40 per 1000 in the United States. This incredible discrepancy reveals the magnitude of the problem. Recently, New York launched a program that offers a solution to this problem. The Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Healthcare (CATCH) program aims to dispense free prescription birth control and Plan B to students. It is currently in place in more than a dozen different public schools in New York, chosen based on their lack of proximity to health care clinics.
Schools with the CATCH program have given free birth control pills and Plan B to over 500 girls so far. This program is especially valuable because girls under 17 need prescriptions for Plan B, which, due to the time-sensitive nature of the drug, often prevents effective use. Along with needing a prescription, teens under 17 need parental consent to access Plan B. With this program, parents need only “opt-out” of the program to prevent their daughter from accessing birth control, but do not need to be alerted if their child is utilizing the program. So far only about 1 percent of parents have opted out.
Plan B is an emergency contraceptive intended to be used within 24 hours of unprotected sex. It contains a dose of levonorgestrel, a hormone found commonly in birth control pills, and works by preventing the release of an egg. Studies have shown Plan B to be extremely safe to use: teenagers aged 13 to 17 are 77 to 96 percent likely to understand the use of the drug, and levonorgestrel is impossible to overdose on.
One-half of pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, according to the National Campaign to Prevent and Unplanned Pregnancy, which means that every year thousands of babies are born to unprepared young mothers. Imagine a student trying to succeed in her senior year while taking care of a baby; it would be close to impossible. Is the CATCH program the best way to combat teenage pregnancy? Countless studies show that teenagers in other comparable countries, such as Canada, Switzerland, Spain and France are engaging in approximately the same amount of sexual activity as teenagers in the United States. The difference is that teens in Europe and Canada are using birth control much more often. Therefore, an obvious solution to the problem of teen pregnancy is the solution put forward by New York and CATCH that the United States should work to support the use of birth control by teenagers.
A great start in combating pregnancy rates would be to stop teaching old-fashioned and damaging abstinence-only curricula to teens. An alternative system can be found in the Canadian education system. Every school in Canada provides a comprehensive sex education course, starting in elementary school. Not only are all sex education classes comprehensive, they also do not contain any moral lessons on the value of abstinence. Teachers in Canada give facts, not opinions. Certain practices in U.S. middle school sex education classes are astounding. There is a disturbing trend of sex-negative lessons given by teachers, an example being the “lollipop activity.” In this activity, girls are given lollipops to suck on, then told: “This represents you, after being unwrapped and used once, no one else will want you.” Not only is this message unbelievably sexist and hurtful, it absolutely contributes to the national issue of teen pregnancy.
There is a direct correlation between the type of sex education given to teens and the number of teen pregnancies. While comparing sex education plans across different states, the progression from abstinence-only to abstinence-suggested to comprehensive sex education results in a steady decline in teen pregnancy. This clearly shows that a realistic and progressive attitude toward teen sexuality makes a huge difference in students’ lives. It has also been shown that abstinence-only sex education does not alter the age at which teens become sexually active. It rather increases their chances of becoming pregnant and contracting sexually transmitted infections.
The United States is an outlier when it comes to teen pregnancy. However, following the example of Western Europe and Canada, we may begin to lower the rate. Programs like CATCH in New York should be implemented in other states, especially those with high pregnancy rates. At the very least, state governments and educators should stop the practice of teaching medieval curricula and withholding vital, life-changing information from teenagers, who all have the right to know how to protect themselves.