The first step in reducing teen pregnancy and abortion is to know the facts. Actually, we know what works. Child Trends and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy published their own data and the corroborating findings of a vast body of scientific research which found that the recipe for delaying sexual activity is parental involvement, good friends, strong faith and participation in church activities. The bottom line, they said, is that parents and friends have tremendous influence on their children, regardless of socio-demographic or economic background and characteristics.
Obviously, many of the nation’s adolescents don’t have those positive influences in their lives; researchers from the left and the right acknowledge the problems associated with single parent families, father absence, declining church attendance, and lack of community networks.
Adolescent girls facing those challenges in their personal lives are particularly vulnerable. Only 1.7 percent of teenage males were fathers in 2002; that means the vast majority of fathers of the babies born to teen mothers are age 20 or older. There are far more sexually experienced girls than there are girls who are sexually active — which probably means that the girls’ sexual initiations were not likely precipitated by mutual passion and instead involved drugs and/or alcohol. So, it is not surprising that fully 63 percent of teens regret early sexual activity and wish that they had waited.
But, there is good news. Teen sexual activity is down, teen births are down, and teen abortions are down. Since their peak, early teen birthrates have declined 45 percent, and older teen birthrates have declined 27 percent. The percentage of sexually experienced teenagers among all races has leveled out, and the decline among non-Hispanic Blacks is one-fifth. Along with these positive changes is an accompanying decline in high-risk sexual behaviors.
Experts from the right and the left stand amazed; many thought they would never see positive progress in these hard-to-reverse trends. None of that is good enough, of course. We lead the developed nations in teen pregnancy and the number of abortions is still far too high.
However, these trend reversals indicate that policy counts. For the well-being of the nation’s teens, we must support those policies that work and discontinue those policies that are counterproductive.
Two actions are essential: