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Kay Kiefer, Published July 04 2010

Fiebiger left out the facts

Sen. Tom Fiebiger, D-N.D., sounds the alarm on rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections in his June 26 column in The Forum. His concern is valid; the information that he chose to share, however, deserves closer scrutiny.

Fiebiger quotes the state Division of Vital Records for teen pregnancy rates, for instance. The term “teen pregnancy” conjures up images of very young pregnant teens. Understand that “teen” as defined by the Division of Vital Records refers to those under the age of 20. In 2008 (the most current data available), for North Dakota residents ages

16 and under, there were 115 pregnancies. For North Dakota residents ages 17 to 19, there were 718 pregnancies. These results indicate that 86 percent of teen pregnancies in North Dakota were among 17- to 19-year-olds – an age when young people are attending college, entering the work force and getting married and are not in classrooms where abstinence education is being taught.

North Dakota ranks 46th in the nation in rate of teen pregnancy, among the lowest in the nation. Teen pregnancy rates in 15- to 19-year-olds decreased in our state by 21 percent from 1988 to 2005. Incidentally, it is in the past 15 to 20 years that abstinence education programs have emerged and become a positive presence in many settings.

A robust body of research has begun to show that many of these programs do, indeed, make a difference. Sen. Fiebiger charges that abstinence programs “deny teenagers medically accurate information.” This is contrary to what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states: “The surest way to avoid transmission of STDs is to abstain from sexual contact or to be in a long-term, mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who has been tested and is known to be uninfected.” Abstinence programs stand on this very foundation.

Furthermore, all programs that have received recent federal funding have been required to submit materials used for review by medical experts to ensure that the information contained is medically accurate. And “dangerous”? Veteran psychiatrist Miriam Grossman, M.D., author of “You’re Teaching My Child What? A Physician Exposes the Lies of Sex Education and How They Harm Your Child,” shares extensive research into the content and ideology intrinsic in comprehensive sex education, programs that jeopardize the physical and emotional health of our children. Get a copy and read it.

Once parents and other invested adults realize what is really included in these programs, they turn overwhelmingly in favor of abstinence-centered programs. We need to pay attention to rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

We also need to make sure that we know the whole story – not just part of it. Kids don’t get pregnant and they don’t get infected if they do not have sex. That is accurate, and that can keep them safe.

Kiefer, RN, directs a statewide positive youth development program (http://www.makeasoundchoice.com

The program is used in more than 50 schools in North Dakota and western Minnesota.