Here Are All The Reasons Why Texas Teenagers Can't Seem to Stop Getting Pregnant
Congratulations, Texas! After a lot of hard work and many long nights, we're number one in the nation for repeat teen births. According to the Centers for Disease Control, which released a new report on April 2, in 2010, 22 percent of Texas teenagers aged 15-19 who gave birth were delivering their second (or third, or fourth) child. We even beat Mississippi, which came in second, and way outpaced those underachievers in New Hampshire, which has the lowest rate of repeat teen birth in the nation (less than 10 percent of their delivering teens had already given birth before).
So, who and what do we have to thank for this stunning achievement? Let's just list 'em off.
Abstinence-only sex education: A little background: States with abstinence-only sex education policies have long been found to have the highest rates of teen pregnancy. According to the CDC, only 29 percent of Texas schools teach "four key topics related to condom use." A 2009 report from the Texas Freedom Network (TFN) found that most school districts in Texas teach some form of abstinence-only education. Those districts, and even some that teach "abstinence-plus" sex ed, are guilty of "downplaying the effectiveness of condoms in preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases," the report said.
One of the state's health textbooks, Essentials of Health and Wellness, mentions the word "condom" once, according to the TFN report. The other three approved health textbooks never use that word at all. And if they're not discussing condoms, you better believe most Texas school districts aren't discussing birth control pills, IUDs, or any other pregnancy prevention method besides "cross your legs and think of your eternal salvation."
That might help explain why Texas ranks third in the nation for pregnant teenagers. But what does it have to do with repeat births? Over at D Magazine's essential Frontburner blog, publisher Wick Allison opines: "This is a case where the argument over abstinence-only vs. sex education does not apply. These young ladies know the consequences of their actions. So we are in entirely different territory."
In fact, the research indicates that a lack of appropriate sex ed has everything to do with both first-time teen pregnancy and its sequels (your own publication, D Healthcare, agrees with us there.) The CDC found that only one in five teen mothers used the most effective forms of birth control after giving birth. The solution? Among other things, the organization recommends better education for teen mothers about effective birth control methods, since apparently nobody bothered to give them that that information the first time around.
There is a bit of good news on the education front, though: A follow-up report from TFN in 2011 found that an increasing number of school districts are choosing abstinence-plus programs that include "basic information about contraception." It's still only a quarter of school districts in state at the most, but that's still undeniable progress.
Poverty: The South as a whole has a high rate of poverty, a low rate of "educational attainment," and a lot of teen pregnancy and repeat teen pregnancy. That's not a coincidence. In 2006, the Guttmacher Institute found that the unintended pregnancy rate for women below the federal poverty line was five times higher than the pregnancy rate for women earning 200 percent or more over the poverty line. All this is especially true for black, Latina and American Indian women, who have higher rates of poverty, and who are 1.5 times more likely than white women to have a repeat birth. And teen mothers are much more likely to stay poor.
A lack of affordable, easily-accessible birth control: Texas has shitty health care for poor people. We know this. We lead the nation in uninsured people , something that's unlikely to change anytime soon, because Rick Perry absolutely hates Medicaid. And Texas has made extra-sure that affordable family planning methods are off the table for those poor people, cutting $73 million from the state family planning budget last session and gutting the Women's Health Program by cutting out Planned Parenthood, its largest provider.
That same D Healthcare story points to a study from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. It found that fewer than one in four teen mothers used the most effective birth control methods to try to prevent another pregnancy: tubal ligation, vasectomy, implant or an IUD. And nearly 10 percent of sexually active teen mothers didn't use contraceptives at all. Their mostly frequently cited reasons were "partner disapproval or inability to afford contraceptives." Helping women get access to things like IUDs and doctors to put them in might be helpful there, no?
A lack of child care and other support services in Texas schools: Only about 38 percent of teen mothers nationwide get a high school diploma. One Voice Texas, a coalition of health and human services agencies across the state, says a lack of childcare is "a major obstacle to school completion." Texas school districts can get funding for "pregnancy-related services," but those services end just after a student gives birth -- right when they need support to stay in school the most.
One Voice suggest extending those services until a teen parent finishes school. They also want better counseling, support, education and transportation assistance for both male and female students who have had children. "Participation in these programs significantly increases the likelihood of graduation and significantly reduces the incidence of repeat pregnancies."
So basically, our teenagers keep getting pregnant because things are a mess here. And with your state representatives doing their damndest to keep sex education out of Texas classrooms, they're likely to stay that way. Let's all look forward to accepting the Knocked Up Teens Award again next year. Start drafting your acceptance speeches now.