Teen Birth Rates Dropped in 2008

By Marcia Clemmitt

A decade-and-a-half steep drop in the U.S. teen birth rate may have essentially hit bottom in 2005, with upticks in 2006 and 2007 representing only a statistical “bouncing around” of the rates rather than harbingers of a longer-term rise.

University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education professor Rebecca A. Maynard advanced that theory in our March 26 Researcher report on teen pregnancy, and new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests she may be right. In 2008, teen births declined by 2 percent, the CDC reports. (http://www.cdc.gov/media/pressrel/2010/r100406.htm)

The 2008 drop doesn’t necessarily mean that the 2006-2007 birth-rate increase was a fluke, but it does suggest that it might be. Several more years of data will be needed before analysts really understand the current trends. The 2008 drop itself is undeniable good news, however.

Despite news on teen birth rates that’s been almost uniformly encouraging for two decades, Americans remain bitterly divided over what schools should teach students about sex, however.

For example, a law passed in Wisconsin in February with strong support from both Democratic and Republican state legislators directs school districts that have sex education programs to tell students how to use condoms and other contraceptives.

But one district attorney opposes contraceptive education and has put five school districts on notice that they must either disobey the new law or see their schools’ sex-ed teachers charged with criminal activity.

"Forcing our schools to instruct children on how to utilize contraceptives encourages our children to engage in sexual behavior, whether as a victim or an offender," Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth wrote to the schools last month. The law “promotes the sexualization – and sexual assault – of our children.” "If a teacher instructs any student aged 16 or younger how to utilize contraceptives under circumstances where the teacher knows the child is engaging in sexual activity with another child -- or even where the 'natural and probable consequences' of the teacher's instruction is to cause that child to engage in sexual intercourse with a child -- that teacher can be charged" with contributing to the delinquency of a minor, wrote Southworth.

Others accuse the DA of overreaching.

“Using condoms isn’t a crime for anyone,” said Rep. Kelda Helen Roys, D, who helped develop the new law.

State legislators generally agree that educating students about both the value of abstaining from sex and the proper usage of condoms and other contraceptives is the most effective means of encouraging responsible behavior and preventing teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, Roy said. (http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/90020507.html)