June 16, 2001
WHY ARE TEEN PREGNANCY
The teen pregnancy rate hit a
new low in 1997, with births falling fast and abortions falling even
faster, reported the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
In 1997, 9.4 percent of all
girls aged 15-19 became pregnant. Of 872,000 pregnancies, 55 percent
gave birth, 29 percent had abortions and the rest miscarried. The teen
pregnancy rate fell 4.4 percent from 1996 to 1997, the latest year with
More important, the teen
pregnancy rate dropped 19 percent from its peak in 1991 and was the
lowest since 1976 when U.S. records began to be kept. The abortion rate
has fallen by nearly a third since 1990, also reaching a record low.
However, the U.S. teen birth
rate is still the world's highest of modern nations, double that of
Great Britain. Four of ten American teens still become pregnant! Their
children are likely to be in poverty, have worse health, education and
Thus, it is imperative to
understand why the U.S. rate has come down at all.
Two weeks ago, the National
Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy issued a report, ''Emerging
Answers,'' by Dr. Douglas Kirby. The programs it reviewed had to compare
children with a particular strategy to those receiving no extra help,
and have a measured impact on sexual or contraceptive behavior,
pregnancy or child bearing.
Those criteria automatically
excluded ''True Love Waits,'' developed by Southern Baptists, an
extraordinarily effective intervention in which an amazing one million
teenagers have signed a pledge to remain chaste until marriage. Why? Not
one study has compared Baptists who take the pledge with teenagers who
Why not? Doesn't the Southern
Baptist Convention or any Baptist college in this country see the need
to gather the data to make a case for chastity to the broader American
In fact, Emerging Answers found
only three studies of abstinence-only programs which met its criteria,
and ''None of the three evaluated programs showed an overall positive
effect on sexual behavior.''
The Journal of the American
Medical Association published results of a National Longitudinal Study
on Adolescent Health which showed that the factor most strongly
associated with a delay in the onset of sexual activity was a pledge of
abstinence, the cornerstone of True Love Waits. Yet Emerging Answers
ignored this study and a number of others.
For example, STARS (Students
Aren't Ready For Sex), which teaches students ''refusal skills'' (''How
to say No'') has reached thousands of Oregon students. A 1997 study
found 70 percent of students said it helped them abstain from sex. More
important, according to the National Abstinence Clearinghouse, ''Rates
of sexual involvement among participating middle school students
surveyed dropped from 9.7 percent before to 5.3 percent after STARS.''
Emerging Answers also ignored a
recent study by Prof. Peter Bearman of Columbia University which found
younger teen boys and girls who took a virginity vow did delay having
intercourse one-third longer (about two years) than teens who did not
sign on the dotted line.
Most school sex ed programs
simply make a case for ''safe sex'' using condoms or pills to prevent
pregnancy. Many actually provide contraceptives. With what result? They
''did not markedly increase the school-wide use of contraceptives,''
said Emerging Answers.
Some combine that approach with
an encouragement of abstinence, with no greater result.
The program most praised by
Emerging Answers is one that was designed by Kirby, the report's author
(which smacks of self-interest) called the ''Children's Aid Society -
Carrera Program.'' It reports substantially reduced ''teen pregnancy and
birth rates among girls...for as long as three years.'' But it ''did not
reduce sexual risk-taking among boys.''
In fact, according to The New
York Times, the very expensive, $4,000-per-student Carrera Program found
the boys ''actually were more likely to become fathers'' than those in a
How is that possible? Scott
Phelps of Project Reality in Chicago asks, ''If the boys in the program
did not reduce their sexual encounters but some of the girls did, whose
babies were they fathering? Were the boys simply having sex with girls
outside the program?''
The girls were given injections
which prevented pregnancy.
Abstinence-only programs are a
better answer and are working, but their efficacy must be proven.
''Those of us who believe
abstinence is the answer, need to design good studies because lots of
people think it is naive to think teenagers will remain abstinent,''
says Dr. Joe McIlhaney, president of the Medical Institute for Sexual
Health in Austin, Tex. ''The only thing that will convince them is good
data on programs helping guide young people to remain abstinent or to
become abstinent again.''
Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.