Schools Should Give Kids Free Contraceptives
Making free birth control available to school kids would be a boon to the U.S.—decreasing the rates of teen pregnancy, welfare dependence, and school drop-out. Pro or con?
Pro: We Must Face the Inevitable
In the pre-industrialized world, teenagers routinely became parents. When life expectancy was short and infant mortality was high, this was the cultural norm. But today, we live much longer and organize our lives around our careers and finances. Having a child as a teen means the mother is more likely to drop out of school, delay her educational advancement, earn less over her working life, contribute less tax money to the state, and end up living in borderline poverty and receiving welfare assistance from the government.
For the decades, our primary means of preventing teenage pregnancies was to demand that teenagers not have sex, a tactic akin to ordering a hungry tiger not to maul you. Outside of our moralistic haze, we know full well that teenage years are a transition to sexual maturity, and no matter what we say, they will have sex. Abstinence-only education, often based on bad science and loaded with religious overtones, is an abject failure. A recent study by Columbia University found that these programs actually contribute to a decline in contraceptive use among teens because they disparage contraception. This increases risks of teen pregnancy and STDs, the exact opposite of these programs’ stated goal.
Instead, schools should be willing to provide contraception to students who make the choice to be sexually active despite being educated about all the potential risks of their behavior. Rather than act self-righteous and drag teenagers into culture wars in which angry polemics only ignore the problem or make it worse and more expensive to deal with, we should give them the means to protect themselves in the real world. It will drive down dropout rates, build new careers, and help today’s teens have children when they’re financially and emotionally ready.
Con: Abstinence Education Is the Key
After 30 years of implementation and evaluation, there is no compelling evidence of in-classroom contraceptive distribution and instruction programs having had a sustained and meaningful effect on program outcome “protective” behaviors—being consistent and correct condom usage. As a public health intervention, contraceptive programs have simply failed American youth: An STD epidemic currently exists amongst young people. One in four teenage girls nationwide has an STD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the U.S. continues to have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world; and the toll from the negative psychological sequelae associated with adolescent sex is having an impact on adolescent mental health and the pursuit of life-goals.
Decreasing teen sexual activity is key to decreasing poverty, since single parenting is strongly linked to poverty. Research shows that the younger a teen starts having sex, the greater risk of pregnancy. A 2002 study from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy found that almost half of all girls who have sex before age 15 get pregnant. Additionally, the distribution of contraceptives does nothing to promote healthy relationships, healthy family formation, and marriage, where a greater probability for economic stability exists.
As well as increased risk of non-marital pregnancy, substance abuse and poor academic achievement are associated with teen sexual activity and can significantly affect school drop-out rates. According to data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, those who were sexually active were three times more likely to be depressed than those who were abstinent. By contrast, teens who abstain from sex enhance their abilities to achieve short-term and long-term life goals.
Young people deserve a whole-person approach, including physical, emotional, and psychological dimensions to protect both their current and future health. The primary prevention strategy, or risk-avoidance abstinence approach, provides for a health paradigm in which youth are better able to develop during adolescent years and from which society will benefit.