The teen pregnancy rate in the United States has been declining for years, but still remains well above the rates in other developed countries. Now is not the time to cut back on prevention work, but that is exactly what the Trump administration has done.
The Trump administration has quietly cut more than $200 million for ongoing research into the most effective ways to prevent unwanted teen pregnancies, a move first reported by Reveal, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting.
The decision to end the grant funding appears to be motivated by ideology, not what is most effective. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and other top officials at the department oppose comprehensive sex education. Instead, they support an emphasis on abstinence only, which has proven not to be effective at reducing teen sexual activity or teen pregnancies.
The budget cuts mean that research projects meant to last five years will end halfway through. This is not only counterproductive in terms of reducing teen pregnancy rates, but it is a waste of resources because the research projects will be cut short without scientifically based conclusions.
Many of the research projects focused on groups most at risk, such as Native Americans, poor and youth under government supervision.
The teen pregnancy rate fell by more than half between 1990 and 2011, the last year for which data are available. The U.S. rate, however, is still twice that of Canada and Sweden and more than 10 times higher than Switzerland.
The number of sexually active teens has remained about the same in recent years, but the percentage of teens using contraceptives has increased, leading to the drop in teen pregnancies.
“Our analysis indicates that improvement in contraceptive use accounted for all the decline in the [pregnancy risk index] from 2007 to 2012,” researchers concluded in a 2016 report.
By contrast, “abstinence-only programs have not demonstrated effectiveness in changing adolescent sexual behavior or in reducing teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections,” the report said.
Therefore, the researchers wrote, “efforts to further improve access to and use of contraception among adolescents are necessary to ensure they have the means to prevent pregnancy.”
The U.S. is now, needlessly and wastefully, moving in the opposite direction.
This will not only cause young mothers to curtail their education, but it will cost taxpayers more money, as a Forbes columnist concluded. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen pregnancy and childbirth accounted for at least $9.4 billion in costs to U.S. taxpayers in 2010.
Teen pregnancy has multi-generational consequences. Only half of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by age 22, compared with 90 percent of women who do not give birth as teens.
The children of teenage mothers also are more likely to drop out of high school. In addition, they are more likely to have more health problems, be incarcerated at some time during adolescence, give birth as teenagers, and face unemployment as young adults.
This is not a cycle that anyone, including opponents of birth control, should want to perpetuate.