EDITORIAL: Births to teenagers

Mississippi’s appalling, highest-in-the-nation birth rate among teenagers 15-19 requires more attention than the state has provided, including further consideration of the proposal by Rep. John Mayo, D-Clarksdale, to allow full sex education in public schools, with parental approval.
Mississippi law limits discouraging teenage sex to abstinence education, which is good as far it goes, but the statistics about pregnancies and births to adolescents and barely adult women strongly suggests that a broader offering of factual information about birth control could be helpful.
Mayo’s proposal to allow sex education, with parental approval, and in separate classes for boys and girls, instigated at the school district level, bears another examination.
The measure passed the House this year, but it died from inaction in the Senate.
The facts are these:
• The teenage birth rate is almost 66 babies per 1,000 women in the age group. The national average is 42.
• Statewide, 54.5 percent of all births, including teenagers, are to single mothers; the rate for teenage mothers is 90 percent or above.
• The teenage birth rate for non-Hispanic white teenagers is 54.8 per 1,000 population, 89.5 per 1,000 for non-Hispanic blacks, and 114.4 for non-black Hispanics.
Poverty, race and ethnicity are identifiable demographic factors in the high rates in the Southeast.
Teenage birth rates fell nationally and in 14 states, including in Mississippi by about six points, from 2007 to 2008, but the United States remains substantially higher than other Western countries.
Official federal sources calculate that between 1991 and 2004, 116,900 children were born to Mississippi teens, and the birth count has consistently exceeded 6,000 per year since.
Births to teens in Mississippi from 1991 to 2004 cost taxpayers a total of $2.7 billion.
Published reports place frequency of teenage sexual activity at 60 percent of Mississippi high school students, compared to 47.8 percent of high school students nationwide.
Specific education about preventing pregnancy, including use of contraceptives but excluding abortion, is not advocacy for pre-marital sex. It’s dealing with facts and attempting to move numbers downward.
The bill that passed the state House on an 84-35 vote during the 2010 session would have given school districts the option of offering an “abstinence-plus” curriculum that would encourage students to refrain from sex but would also give them information about birth control pills, condoms or other contraception.
The prevailing methodology isn’t working.

NEMS Daily Journal