Americans Are Getting Smarter About Teen Pregnancy

Supporting comprehensive sex education, which is far superior to anything most of us got in school, seems like a no-brainer. Sadly, it scares officials -- in particular, school officials.
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You've got to give credit to ordinary Americans. They're frequently more sensible about hot-button issues than are the officeholders elected to serve them. One recent example? Preventing teen pregnancy.

In a nationally representative telephone survey released this week, a large majority of adults 18 and older said they support federal money going to sex education programs that have been proven to delay sex, improve contraceptive use and prevent teen pregnancy.

Supporting comprehensive sex education, which is far superior to anything most of us got in school, seems like a no-brainer. Sadly, it scares officials -- in particular, school officials. Consider: In North Carolina, public schools are banned from making birth control -- even condoms -- available to their students.

But even there, attitudes are changing. Last week, the Durham, N.C., county health department asked county commissioners to lift the ban in county schools. And for good reason: According to Durham's newspaper, the Herald-Sun, the county's teen pregnancy rate is higher than the state average and higher than the norm for the state's urban counties. In its effort to persuade a majority of commissioners, the health department left in place a rule requiring school doctors and nurses to discuss contraception with a student only after receiving parental consent.

A couple of the commissioners resisted lifting the ban initially, but eventually agreed once the wording was slightly changed. This week, the commission approved a measure allowing "medical providers" to "provide services within their scope of practice that meet the needs of their patients." The measure still must be approved by the N.C. General Assembly.

As such debates continue in the South and elsewhere, contraception keeps getting better. Long-acting methods of contraception, for example, such as implants and IUDs, can last from three to 10 years and are not only safe but recommended as teenagers' first and best birth control option, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

In addition, an increasing number of insurance policies -- including government policies -- cover contraception for teens. And state health departments are becoming more creative in their programming: In New Mexico, for instance, teens and parents can text questions about birth control and other sexual health issues to a certain telephone number and receive an answer within 24 hours.

So let's go back to the national telephone survey done by the independent research organization, SSRS. Researchers questioned 1,004 adults ages 18 and older. About one-third of those adults identified their political views as conservative. Slightly more than a quarter said they were liberals. The rest fell somewhere in between. Forty-one percent identified themselves politically as Independent; 30 percent said Democratic and 23 percent Republican.

Given their different political ideologies, it's refreshing to note how united they were on virtually every question. For example, three out of four said yes when asked whether they supported federal money going to programs proven to delay sex, improve contraceptive use and/or prevent teen pregnancy. Divided by race or ethnicity, the results were almost even: 77 percent of black, non-Hispanics; 74 percent of white, non-Hispanics and 72 percent of Hispanics. Regionally, the picture was the same: about three out of four said yes, regardless of whether they lived in the north-central, northeast, southern or western part of the country.

In his recent book, Show Me the Evidence, Ron Haskins, a Republican scholar at the Brookings Institution, a bipartisan policy organization, argues that programs demonstrating solid scientific evidence of success are what taxpayers should be asked to support. Apparently, taxpayers agree, at least on the best ways to prevent sexually active young women from getting pregnant.