teen pregnancies and abstinence-only education (ridiculous)

Wrote a Letter to the Editor in response to an article (Teen pregnancies at 30-year low). I doubt it will get published, so here it is:


In the midst of pop-star teen pregnancies and the Massachusetts high school pregnancy-anomaly, thank you for publishing “Teen pregnancies at a 30-year low” (29 June 08). Nevertheless, though the 30-year trends of sexual activity in teens are down from 117 to 72 per 1,000 women (age 15-19), teens are having sex. The Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit organization focused on sexual and reproduction health research and education has compiled a focused epidemiological-analysis of sexual health practices of U.S. adolescents. By the age of 15, only 13% of teens have ever had sex. However, by the time they reach age 19, seven in 10 teens have engaged in sexual intercourse. If most of our youth are engaging in sex for the first time at 17, but are not in domestic-partnerships until their middle or late 20s this means that young adults are at risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) for nearly a decade. Simply stated, a sexually active teen that does not use contraceptives has a 90% chance of becoming pregnant within a year. How do we morally juxtapose this with making sure that each child brought into this world is a wanted child and will be raised in a supportive environment?

Illinois has been on the forefront of many progressive health measures. In 2006 Blagojevich helped Illinois become the first state in the nation providing comprehensive health insurance for every child in Illinois. Just last week Senators Obama and McCain co-sponsored the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to allow for funding of health initiative to global HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Sexual education and family planning are health initiatives and in this vain we have to urge our elected officials to prohibit abstinence-only sex education funding in Illinois. Title V and Community Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) grants are a misuse of tax dollars. Abstinence-only programs are inaccurate, ineffective, and incomplete in educating our youth on crucial sexual and reproductive health issues. Almost $8 million pours into Illinois each year from the federal government for abstinence-only programs. These programs censor what educators can teach and fail to provide teens with comprehensive information. Currently, funding for such comprehensive programs is not available.

Ninety percent of publicly funded family planning clinics counsel clients younger than 18 about abstinence and the importance of communicating with parents about sex. Strikingly, sixty percent of teens younger than 18 who use a clinic for sexual health services say their parents know they are there. Among those whose parents do not know, 70% would not use the clinic for prescription contraception if the law required that their parents be notified. Only 1% of all minor adolescents using sexual health services indicate that their only reaction to a law requiring their parents’ involvement for prescription contraception would be to stop having sex. We must urge Governor Blagojevich to reject Title V funds and the Illinois Congressional delegation to defund Title V and CBAE grants and educate and empower our adolescent community.

Yalda Afshar, MD/PhD candidate
Medical Scientist Training Program
University of Illinois, Chicago College of Medicine

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