Republican Hypocrisy on Teen Pregnancy

OK, you try figuring out whether or not the GOP wants teenagers to have babies.
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The Republican-controlled, 109th Congress has invented new modes of hypocrisy on an almost weekly basis and the Senate yesterday sure kept that ball rolling.

By a vote of 65-34, the Senate passed S. 403, a bill that made it a crime to go around parental-notification laws by transporting a pregnant minor across state lines for an abortion. Shortly before that, Senate Republicans mobilized to reject an amendment by Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) that would have funded programs to reduce the very teen pregnancies at issue in the bill that was passed.

OK, you try figuring out whether or not the GOP wants teenagers to have babies.

"We all want to reduce teen pregnancies and abortions. To achieve that, we must do what works, not what pleases political constituencies," said Lautenberg, referring to the GOP tendency to kiss up to the Religious Right, by supporting abstinence as the only solution to unwanted pregnancies. "A comprehensive approach to sex education, which includes both abstinence and information on contraception, is the proven way to reduce the number of teen pregnancies."

"If the Senate passes this punitive bill but fails to do anything about teen pregnancy, it would prove that this exercise is only a political charade and not a serious effort to reduce abortions," said Lautenberg, referring to S. 403.

As if on cue, Tom Coburn (R-OK) stepped up to the microphone and mouthed all the appropriate words for the Religious Right, saying that abstinence is the only solution.

"How many people really think it's in the best interest of young people to be sexually active outside of marriage? Does anything positive ever come from that?" Coburn piously asked on the Senate floor.

Lautenberg's amendment, which was cosponsored by four other Democrats, including fellow New Jersey Democrat Robert Menendez, accounted for both abstinence programs and common sense educational measures to help teens make informed choices.

Here's a critical part of the legislation, straight from the bill:

The Secretary of Health and Human Services may make grants to States, local educational agencies, State and local public health agencies, and nonprofit private entities for the purpose of carrying out programs of family life education, including education on both abstinence and contraception for the prevention of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, and education to support healthy adolescent development."

I guess we can see why radical ideas like that would scare the hell out of most Republicans.

The vote on the pregnancy-prevention bill was 48-51, with Lincoln Chafee (R-RI), Susan Collins (R-ME), Gordon Smith (R-OR), Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) joining all Democrats except GOP-lite Ben Nelson (D-NE) in voting for the program.

"Our role as a community is to provide opportunity and education for young people to help prevent teen pregnancy from happening in the first place," said Menendez. "We can achieve this by making the community more available through after-school programs, as well as, partnerships with faith-based and other community organizations."

Ah, but Menendez is not accounting for the reality that what matters to at least half of our U.S. Senators is what James Dobson and Tony Perkins say on the subject.

The federal government currently does not fund comprehensive sex-education programs, despite the fact that 75 percent of parents say that in addition to abstinence, sex-education should cover contraception and other forms of birth control.

Meanwhile, S. 403, the Child Custody Protection Act, passed, with Republican Senators claiming it would protect pregnant teens while their Democratic colleagues argued it would do just the opposite.

"No parent wants anyone to take their children across state lines or even across the street without their permission," said Mitch McConnell (-KY). "This is a fundamental right, and the Congress is right to uphold it in law."

But many Democrats strongly disagreed, saying that the measure would make criminals out of concerned extended-family members and place young girls in even greater danger by making an already-difficult decision even harder to deal with.

"I think it will make them fearful. I think it will make them feel alone," said Barbara Boxer (D-CA). "This bill needs a lot more work."

"We're going to sacrifice a lot of girls' lives," said Senator Hillary Clinton (D-NY) while Ted Kennedy (D-MA) -- as he has done so often in this Congress -- called into question why the GOP leadership continues to waste time on such issues.

"Congress ought to have higher priorities than turning grandparents into criminals," said Kennedy.

Abortion rights groups also came out strongly against the bill with the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) calling it the "Teen Endangerment Act" and planning a legal challenge to the law.

"The Center for Reproductive Rights strongly opposes the abortion bill passed today by the Senate," said the CRR in a press release. "Far from providing protection, this legislation endangers the health of young women and criminalizes grandmothers, aunts and sisters for simply helping a loved one in a highly personal time of need."

"The Senate showed a frightening lack of compassion for American teens and a disturbing willingness to play politics with their health and safety today," said Stephenie Foster of Planned Parenthood. "We all want our daughters to come to us, but what is most important is that they are safe. Parents need support to keep their kids healthy and safe -- not laws that criminalize family members for helping teens get access to good medical care."

But this bill still has a bit of a journey before it becomes law, with significant differences in the Senate's version and the similar legislation passed last year by the House of Representatives. Those bills must be reconciled before the consolidated measure can hit George W. Bush's desk for a certain signature.

And it's important for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) and his House counterpart, Dennis Hastert (R-IL), to know that their patrons on the far Right are watching.

"Senator [John] Ensign and his colleagues are to be praised for the hard work in passing this important legislation," said Tony Perkins, President of the ultraconservative Family Research Council. "I fully expect a strong bill to come out of conference and be passed by both bodies."

I'm sure Frist and Hastert will make sure that it's done right away, Mr. Perkins.

You can reach Bob Geiger at


Excellent numbers from Lautenberg as he argued on behalf of his pregnancy-prevention amendment on the Senate floor yesterday:

"The U.S. teen pregnancy rate is the highest by far among developed countries, and here is some of the evidence we use to prove this.

"In Germany, the teen pregnancy rate is 16 per 1,000. The U.S. rate is 84 per 1,000. I ask my colleagues to look at this chart which shows several countries teen pregnancy rates compared with the U.S. This is teen pregnancy rate for ages 15 to 19, among developed countries per 1,000 persons. In Sweden, it is 25 young women per 1,000; in France, it is 20 young women per 1,000; in Canada, 46; in Great Britain, 47; and here we are. Are we the winners in this contest? I hardly think so. We have 84 unintended teenage pregnancies per 1,000 persons.

"I mentioned before that Germany has a teen pregnancy rate of 16 per 1,000, and again, I mention the rate in the United States is 84 per 1,000. So it tells us that there is something terribly wrong about the way we do things here.

"I look further at Belgium, which has a teen pregnancy rate of 14 per 1,000; the Netherlands, 12 per 1,000; and ours is 84 per 1,000. We cannot continue to ignore facts such as these. We can pass all the abortion restrictions we can think of, but unless there are fewer teen pregnancies, the results will be tragic for thousands of young women."

What a not-so-amazing correlation that the countries that are the least uptight about sex-education are the ones with the lowest teen-pregnancy rates.

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