Friday, December 07, 2007
Teenage Pregnancies and the "Abstinence" Guy
NY Times (AP)
December 6, 2007
ATLANTA (AP) In a troubling reversal, the nation's teen birth rate rose for the first time in 15 years, surprising government health officials and reviving the bitter debate about abstinence-only sex education.
The birth rate had been dropping since its peak in 1991, although the decline had slowed in recent years. On Wednesday, government statisticians said it rose 3 percent from 2005 to 2006.
The reason for the increase is not clear, and federal health officials said it might be a one-year statistical blip, not the beginning of a new upward trend.
However, some experts said they have been expecting a jump. They blamed it on increased federal funding for abstinence-only health education that doesn't teach teens how to use condoms and other contraception.
- President Bush requires abstinence-only programs to teach that "sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects." Jenna Bush describes how Ana, then 16, has sex for the first time with HIV-positive Berto: "She felt no fear, only love." She relates approvingly how a nurse told Ana at age 10 that "when she was older and ready to have sex that it was very important to always use condoms."
- As Jenna Bush told Newsweek, "In Africa my dad's policies are pretty much in line with mine, but not domestically." ABC -- abstain, be faithful, use condoms -- is the message abroad, not at home.
- Contrast Jenna Bush with the president's latest flawed choice for the post of acting deputy secretary for population affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services -- in other words, the official who oversees federal family planning programs and advises on reproductive health and adolescent pregnancy, including abstinence-only programs.
- You may remember Bush's previous pick: Eric Keroack, who was medical director of a pregnancy-counseling (read: antiabortion) clinic that considered birth control "demeaning to women" and believed that making contraception available, "especially among adolescents, actually increases . . . out-of-wedlock pregnancy and abortion."
- Keroack resigned after it was revealed that state Medicaid officials had taken action against his private medical practice in Massachusetts. Bush replaced him with Susan Orr, former senior director for marriage and family care at the conservative Family Research Council and an adjunct professor at Pat Robertson's Regent University. Orr seems to be Keroack Lite.
- In 2001, when the Bush administration proposed lifting the requirement that health insurers of federal employees provide coverage for contraceptives, Orr cheered. "We're quite pleased, because fertility is not a disease," she said. "It's not a medical necessity that you have it." Tell that to girls like Ana.
- The year before, Orr fought a D.C. Council bill requiring all employers to cover contraception -- with no exception for those, such as the Catholic Church, that have religious objections. I agree that a "conscience clause" should have been included, but Orr's opposition was disturbingly vitriolic. "The mask of choice is falling off," she said. "It's not about choice. It's not about health care. It's about making everyone collaborators with the culture of death."
- The Family Research Council argues against funding the family planning program that Orr is slated to supervise. "We don't think there is an argument for taxpayer funding of contraception," the group's vice president for government affairs, Tom McClusky, told me.
- The group has echoed that message in a prayer alert about the $283 million a year program that funds family planning clinics for low-income women. "Pray that Title X funding, which has increased even under Republican rule, will not be expanded," it urged. "May President Bush use the veto pen if necessary to make sure that the culture of death is restrained."
- Asked if Orr agreed with those views, HHS spokesman Kevin Schweers replied in an e-mail: "Dr. Orr wouldn't have accepted the job . . . if she couldn't support the Administration's positions. This Administration has worked to ensure family planning grantees effectively provide safe and effective contraceptive products and services to clients in need." Hardly a ringing endorsement.
- Almost 40 years ago, a member of Congress, urging the federal government to help lower-income women get access to birth control, made a point that seems lost on the Orrs of the world. "We need to take sensationalism out of this topic," he said. "If family planning is anything, it is a public health matter."
- The lawmaker was George H.W. Bush -- and I suspect his granddaughter would understand, even if his son chooses not to.