In determining how to combat teen pregnancy, Texas policy makers should let the facts be their guide.
Colorado provides the latest facts. It has been providing long-acting birth control to teenagers and low-income women for the past six years. The result: a 40 percent drop in the birthrate to teenagers from 2009 to 2013. And a 42 percent drop also in abortions for teens.
But Texas should also look at what has occurred in California. Yes, California can teach on this issue. An oped in this newspaper recently by two Texas experts on teen pregnancy made some useful comparison.
“A couple of decades ago, Texas and California were equals when it came to the number of teens getting pregnant — both had extremely high rates,” wrote Janet Realini and Gwen Daverth. “Then California saw teen pregnancy rates plummet by 60 percent when it did two things. First, it launched a program that gave teens more access to contraception, no parental consent required. Second, it passed a law that requires sexuality education in schools to be comprehensive, medically accurate and age- and culturally appropriate.”
It also banned abstinence-only education.
Texas would benefit if it did all of this.
Giving teens access to birth control without parental consent will rile many parents. We understand. Ideally, teenagers would include parents in the big decisions of their lives.
But as anyone who has been a teenager and every parent of a teen knows, when it comes to sexual activity, this isn’t how it works. Moreover, it is simply a fact of life that many Texas teens don’t have parents as active in their lives as the rest of us would like.
Among the effects of teen pregnancy: high school dropouts, continuing poverty, increased use of social services, more frequent contact with law enforcement for these children as they get older, and children more likely to become teen parents themselves. And the cycle starts anew.
As in every state, births to teen moms have been declining in Texas. But Texas is still in the top tier nationally in such births and in the number of repeat births to teen moms.
And, yet, Texas, as a matter of public policy, doesn’t promote confidential family-planning services for minors without parental consent. Texas has actually legislated on this, not allowing state funds to be used for such services.
It even turned back a bill in this last session by Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, that would have allowed teens who have already given birth access to birth control without parental consent.
If state funds are involved, Texas won’t, without parental consent, even provide more basic forms of birth control for teens, such as condoms and birth control pills. This is a mistake.
Clinics that receive federal Title X funds cannot deny contraceptive services because of age, though these providers urge teenagers to consult their parents. What if Texas were a partner, rather than an obstruction, in this regard?
Another problem is that Title X funding generally and for birth control specifically are under assault in Congress, whose members say they care deeply about abortion. They seemingly don’t understand the role unwanted pregnancies play in abortion.
If Texas clings to this mindset and Congress guts Title X, minors in Texas won’t have any legal access to birth control without parental consent.
Birth control increases sexual activity? No more than an umbrella causes rain. Realini and Daverth noted that Texas teens are as sexually active as teens elsewhere. The difference is that, with limited access to birth control, this results in pregnancy more often.
Texas should look to Colorado and California for a solution. And Congress should preserve Title X funding.