In recent years the amount of pregnant teenagers in the United States has skyrocketed; free contraceptives should be available and provided for middle and high school students within schools around the country in order to help prevent the amount high school students that experience unintended pregnancies before graduating from their high school.
The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate (nine times higher) of any other country in the world. In New York, teen pregnancy costs taxpayers at least $421 million dollars per year. Most of the cost is caused because of the negative consequences for the children who are born to teen mothers or parents. The costs are made up of health care costs for Medicaid, child welfare, public assistance, foster care, lost tax revenue and incarceration. Teen moms are more likely to drop out of school and live in poverty; their children are more likely to be delivered at low birth weight, grow up poor, and live in single-parent households, experience abuse and neglect, and enter the child welfare system. Daughters of teen mothers are more likely to become teen parents themselves and sons of teen mothers are more likely to be incarcerated (Hoffman, “By the Numbers: The Public Costs Of Teen Childbearing In New York”).
“The consequences of teenage pregnancy are both far-reaching and cyclical. They are far-reaching in the sense that teenage parenthood circumscribes the lives of young people and has severe implications for the education, health, and well-being of both parents and offspring; and also in the sense that both parents and offspring may never recover sufficiently to become productive members of society. They are cyclical in the sense that the children of teenage parents frequently become teenage parents themselves and thus become subject to the same consequences that their parents faced (“A young woman who has not developed a sense of autonomy will have difficulty establishing a relationship with her infant because of her impede ability to empathize with the child. An egocentric teenager cannot possibly tune into her infant’s needs or respond to its cues; she therefore lacks the ability to provide an appropriate nurturing environment” (Compton and Hruska 14.)
In Sullivan County, The percentage of births to teens (10-17 years old) from 2006-2008 was 2.3%, compared to the New York State rate of 2.2 (Family Planning Indicators, 2011.) Lewin (2010) states that the pregnancy rate among teenagers increased 3 percent from 2005 to 2006, after it had declined 14% between 1990 and 2006. There was a slight decline again in 2008 until the present. Social programs for the purpose of decreasing teen pregnancy have slowly started to disappear during the recession; President Obama is still providing some limited financial investment but for “evidence based” programs only. These programs are gradually become non existent, like BOCES’ Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program, have been taken away and the service providers have gone out of business. Programs like Planned Parenthood, which provide free or low cost birth control and sex education for teenagers, have been the victim of repeated cuts caused by conservatives, religious groups and Republicans. “For the decades, our primary means of preventing teenage pregnancies was to demand that teenagers not have sex, a tactic akin to ordering a hungry tiger not to maul you,” states Greg Fish (Fish, “Schools Should Give Kids Free Contraceptives.”)
Miller (1973) stated that 50% of unwed women have had sexual intercourse by the age of 19. At that time, over 30 years ago, most of the respondents in his research revealed that their parents and doctors were not an good source of information about sex, and that they did not consistently use contraception. In 2002, the National Center for Health Statistics, Fertility, Family Planning, and Reproductive Health of U.S. Women conducted a survey of women from the ages of 15 to 54, which showed that the average age of teens starting to have intercourse, was 17.3 years, with men averaging at the slightly younger age of 17. Those who lived with both parents or who were involved in religion tended to be slightly older. Boys and girls were equally likely to have engaged in sex. Omran et al. (2006) studied the initiation of sexual behavior among 2,300 urban teens in Baltimore, and found that 42 percent had engaged in sexual intercourse by the age of 14, and that the average age for teens to have sexual intercourse was 14.8 years. In 2008, more than 10,000 girls participated in an anonymous survey on the Tyra Banks TV show (Coffey, “Survey, Unprotected Sex Common Among Teens”). The results showed that on average, girls had lost their virginity at 15 years of age. Fourteen percent of teens who were having sex said they were doing it at school, and 52 percent of survey respondents said that they did not use protection when having sex. Only 2% of girls were using long-acting reversible contraceptives (Vital Signs, 2011). “More than 6 in 10 high school students will have sex before they graduate” (Get the Facts, NY, 2011.)
Why are sexually active teenagers failing to protect themselves from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections? In Risky Business, a 2000 poll, 3 out of 10 teens admitted they had not used protection the last time they had sex, although 9 out of 10 said that they believed it was important to use protection every time. Half of them stated that they didn’t because their partners didn’t want to, and they felt pressured to have sex without it. Half also said that drugs or alcohol were the reasons they didn’t use protection. Brown and Guthrie (2010) interviewed English women between the ages of 16 and 24 who had just had an abortion. They explained that all the women had been fully aware of the importance of contraception and knew where they could obtain it, but had “forgotten” to do so, gotten carried away in the moment, or gave into pressure from partners who did not want to use a condom.
Some teenagers choose to get pregnant. There have been a number of recent films like “Juno” and reality shows, which both normalize and glamorize teen pregnancy and teen parents. For teens unsure about themselves and their relationships, the desire for some form of unconditional love leads many to think motherhood will satisfy that longing, and that it will bring the attention from others that the teen may want. For some, they are carrying on the tradition of multi-generational poverty; they may have themselves been the child of a teen. Childbearing may be a role that they feel they will bring attention, success and social status as a “baby-mama,” also giving themselves a adult role as a mother, helping them to escape the confusion of the teen years. Teen-age girls also feel that getting pregnant is a way to secure their relationship with their partner (Lowen, “Teen Pregnancy Pact – Teens Choose to Become Pregnant”) However, “A young woman who has not developed a sense of autonomy will have difficulty establishing a relationship with her infant because of her impeded ability to empathize with the child. An egocentric teenager cannot possibly tune into her infant’s needs or respond to its cues; she therefore lacks the ability to provide an appropriate nurturing environment” (Compton and Hruska)
In rural schools, teens face obstacles in obtaining contraception. Within smaller towns and counties, there are very few services for the prevention of Teen Pregnancy. Places which are in greater need receive the small amount of money for such programs. Which leaves the duty of teen pregnancy prevention is on the schools staff. Planned Parenthood clinics could be located very far away in these rural areas and their hours could be very inconvenient to students. Bringing up the problem of getting there, because of the lack of transportation. The local general stores do carry condoms, but students are unlikely to buy them there, due to their concerns about their privacy and confidentiality in a small town where all the store staff know most customers by name. Also in a poor rural community, the students have very few opportunities for employment so that they can’t afford to buy their own birth control. Depending on when a student elects to take Health Class, they may have little or no accurate information about sexual health issues or contraception until their senior year.
According to the Guttmacher Report on “School-Based Health Centers and the Birth Control Debate (2000), there were 1,135 school based health centers in the United States, located in 45 states; there are now 230 approved and operating School-based health centers in New York State, 64% of which are in urban areas (School-Based Health Centers Fact Sheet) Services are paid for by Medicaid, private insurance, Child Health Plus, and 23% of services are provided free for the uninsured. These clinics offer services on site, including reproductive health services, such as pregnancy testing, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and gynecological exams. However, 3 out of four were prohibited from dispensing contraceptives (besides condoms) per school district policy. They were at least able to provide birth control counseling and referrals to outside agencies.
An AP Poll taken in 2007 indicated that 67% of Americans favored letting schools provide contraceptives (CBS News, “Birth Control at School? Most Say It’s OK”). However, most also preferred that the contraceptives be given to children who had their parents permission. The poll was given after much attention in the media to the events at King Middle School, in Maine, where middle and high school students (aged 11 to 18) were allowed to have free access to birth control pill prescriptions through their onsite health center (Fox News, “School Board Approves Birth Control Prescriptions at Maine Middle School”.) Although there was a lot of disagreement to this proposal from opponents who felt that birth control was the students’ parents’ responsibility, that giving out birth control was giving “permission” to teens to have sex, and that it violated parental rights, more people felt that the policy was needed in order to protect those students who didn’t have strong support from their parents.
In conclusion, at many schools within the country nurse practitioners and doctors conduct health exams for students with parental permission. The existing program should be expanded to also provide reproductive care and education, and the school nurses could be aloud to promote and provide information about contraception and protection from sexually transmitted infections and non-prescription birth control methods. It is very important that schools and the communities develop new strategies which will prevent unintended teen pregnancy and promote health.
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