No kidding: “Abstinence education” doesn’t work

November 5, 2007

Headline in this morning’s Dallas Morning News: “Texas teens lead nation in birth rate.”

The subhead: “Experts questioning abstinence-only education approach.”

What was the clue?

While the national teen birth rate has slowed, Texas has made far less headway, alarming public health officials and child advocates.

Texas teens lead the nation in having babies. Last month, the nonprofit group Child Trends conferred another No. 1 ranking on Texas. In the latest statistics available, 24 percent of the state’s teen births in 2004 were not the girl’s first delivery.

“That astounded me,” said Kathryn Allen, senior vice president for community relations at Planned Parenthood of North Texas. “I mean, what are we doing wrong?”

Texas’ policy is to deny contraceptives without parental consent wherever possible and to push an abstinence-only sex education program in public schools.

Conservatives blame liberal policies. The radical, “pregnancy is punishment from God” Eagle Forum believes success in reducing teen-aged pregnancies in other states is due to increased abortions, though there is not an iota of evidence to support such a claim.

The good news is that Texas’ teen pregnancy rates are down 19%. The bad news for Texas is that the national rates are down about 30%, and California has achieved a 47% reduction in the same period of time, by emphasizing honest sex education that teaches the use of prophylactics and by making birth control devices available to teens for free at public health clinics.

I have suffered through amazingly destructive presentations in which abstinence-only educators tell fantastic falsehoods to kids. In one presentation, the fellow started out claiming condoms are effective only 60% of the time, but got the failure rate up to 90% by the end of his talk. Kids in the school told me that they learned not to use condoms.

Where is Susan Powter when you need her rage?

Check out the good reporting by Robert T. Garrett, and tell us in comments what you conclude.

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