To Battle Teen Pregnancy Crisis, Texas Builds $1.2 Million Abstinence-Only Website
You're a public health policymaker in Texas. Teenage girls in the state are getting knocked up at an alarming rate, then they're having babies and getting knocked up again. The data, along with the bulk of the scientific literature, suggest that the state's longstanding strategy of telling kids not to have sex isn't working.
Do you A.) come to terms with reality and embark on a campaign to teach kids about safe sex and the benefits of contraception; or B). declare jihad on family planning clinics and pour $1.2 million into an abstinence-only website and ad campaign?
Having trouble? Go back to the first sentence. Focus on the "Texas" part. The correct answer is clearly b.
The family planning cuts instituted by the state legislature over the past two legislative sessions have been well documented. The $1.2-million abstinence-only web campaign, ourtown4teens.org, rolled out this month.
The site is not primarily directed at wayward teens. It's designed as a resource for communities hoping to combat the problem of teen pregnancy, which presumably explains the mosaic of old and/or male faces at the top of the page.
In theory, it's a worthy endeavor, In practice, it has some glaring flaws, which the Texas Observer's Carolyn Jones noted today.
One is the impenetrable jargon:
Although the site offers reminders why adolescent pregnancy is to be avoided--girls don't finish school, babies have worse health outcomes, taxpayers foot the bill--it seems primarily to be a home for buzzwords like "community mobilization," "strategic action" and "conceptual framework."
Sadly, if you're all fired up about combating adolescent pregnancy in your area but you don't speak jargon, then this website probably isn't for you.
Two is the site's obsessive avoidance of birth control
The site doesn't contain a word about contraception, even though Christine Mann, a state health department spokesperson, described the project as a "hub of coordinated information" to help communities reduce teen pregnancy. This omission is especially stark given that Texas' family planning clinics have been defunded and access to birth control, especially for teens, is a real challenge. Texas also has the third highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation, yet the website sheds no light on one very practical way to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.
There are practical reasons for that, as Jones explains in her piece. The site is partially paid for with federal funds earmarked for states to use for abstinence-only campaigns (the federal program was first baked into the welfare reform bill that passed Congress in 1996). Texas is particularly covetous of such funds, since the program dovetails so nicely with its homegrown approach to sex ed.
This sort of misses the whole point. The question the state should be asking isn't whether its new website is philosophically pure but whether it helps prevent a significant number of teenagers from getting pregnant. The prospects for that seem doubtful.