By NEMS Daily Journal
Mississippi remains divided at every level of discussion about teaching birth control to adolescents in public schools, even with parental permission. Meanwhile, the facts are that as the debate continues our birth rate to teenagers remains highest in the nation – apparently climbing even as the rate drops in some other states.
In parallel, births to single mothers remain a large majority in our state for both non-Hispanic white and African-American girls and women.
The Centers for Disease Control reports 66 births to teenagers per 1,000 live births in Mississippi, with every other southern state also having higher rates than the national 42 per 1,000.
The highest rates of teenage births are in the Deep South, which is contiguous with what’s often called the Bible Belt, where abstinence by religious doctrine is the norm among church members, constituting a majority of the total population.
It is undeniable that abstinence will prevent pregnancy, but if abstinence isn’t practiced even by people who are taught that behavior in their families and churches, it won’t prevent pregnancies – and almost all teenage births are high-risk for sad consequences.
Two bills in the Mississippi Legislature this session would open a door to teaching contraception beyond abstinence. House Bill 507 would require local school boards to adopt a policy to implement abstinence-only or abstinence-plus education into curriculums. Senate Bill 2222 would establish a pilot program for sex education overseen by the departments of Health and Education.
It’s often been said by some in our state that if the teenage and single-mother birth rates weren’t so high among non-white teenagers and women the problem wouldn’t exist.
Mississippi, the CDC reports, has the highest birth rate to white teenagers. In 2007 it was 54.8, compared to 4.3 in, of all places, the District of Columbia. Rates among blacks and Hispanics were higher, but the problem exists across the race/ethnicity spectrum.This week, at a legislative hearing in Jackson, 32-year-old Lori Roberts, a mother of seven, told lawmakers, “There’s a pervasive belief that students already access this information … My experience is that they do not.”
State Health Officer Dr. Mary Currier said schools should have the option to go beyond abstinence because many youth are sexually active.
Schools should be allowed to offer sex education beyond abstinence for students who have parental permission. This isn’t promiscuity promotion; it’s preventive instruction. Our state needs an effective lesson. What we’re doing, or not doing, now isn’t working.