By The Sun Herald
Years of taking a “just say no” approach to underage sexual activity has given Mississippi the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the nation.
It is an “epidemic,” as Gov. Phil Bryant declared in his first state of the state address in January, and Mississippians, he said, “must boldly confront” it.
Since then, the governor has toured the state promoting abstinence as a remedy to teen pregnancy, a message little different from the state’s traditional, and failed, approach to the problem.
While we commend the governor for making teen pregnancy a priority, we regret that he has been timid to employ the best-known tool to try to fix it: “evidence-based, age-appropriate and medically accurate” instruction in the state’s public schools.
Instead, Bryant clings to the notion that abstinence-only sex education will help him reach his goal of reducing teen pregnancy by 15 percent by 2017.
Bryant will get no criticism here for his tough stance on “baby daddies,” a term he says should shame any Mississippi male.
But like abstinence-only instruction, the threat of prison and child support payments are dubious preventive measures.
Much more effective would be providing our children – before they have children of their own – with the best possible information about their own bodies and the consequences of their actions.
We already know the consequences of our timid public policy efforts thus far: Nearly two-thirds of high school students and nearly a third of middle school students report having sexual intercourse.
(We should confront) public school districts which refuse to offer the “abstinence-plus” sex education curriculum. Among those school districts are Gulfport, Jackson County, Long Beach and Pass Christian, which earlier this year opted to keep telling their students to “just say no.”
It is time for Gov. Bryant and the Legislature to say “no” to the “just say no” approach anywhere in Mississippi.
Sun Herald, Biloxi/Gulfport