Molly Secor-Turner and Brandy Randall, Published February 23 2013
Letter: Political meddling is bafflingIn August 2012, we submitted a proposal to implement and evaluate an evidence-based comprehensive sexuality education program with the aim of reducing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections among youth at high-risk for early pregnancy and parenting. This grant, made available through the Personal Responsibility Education Program of the Department of Health and Human Services, requires that funded agencies provide programs that have demonstrated effectiveness in reducing teen pregnancy and provide additional training on adulthood preparation skills. It was a requirement that the program be based on what works.
Because Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota is an established leader in effectively providing this kind of programming, we designed an implementation and evaluation approach that taps into Planned Parenthood’s experience and expertise in community programming and our professional expertise in adolescent health and research training. Through a competitive selection process, federal experts on teen pregnancy prevention selected our grant because of its strong scientific merit and potential to make a difference in decreasing teen pregnancy in North Dakota. This voluntary program for teens ages 15 to 19 whose parents or guardians consent to their participation was set to begin at the end of January with strong support from local youth-serving community organizations.
In North Dakota, we value the health and well-being of our residents, especially our youth. Politics that interfere with the health of North Dakota’s most vulnerable young people are out of touch with North Dakota’s values.
We all can agree that teen pregnancy and early childbearing are serious concerns. In fact, teen childbearing has serious long-term disadvantages for both teens and their babies – including being at higher risk for poverty, being less likely to get an education, and being more likely to have adverse health outcomes. On the other hand, preventing teen pregnancy has the potential to break the cycle of poverty, improves educational attainment and improves health outcomes.
The best news is we know what works. Rigorous research shows that comprehensive sexuality education helps delay sexual activity and increases the likelihood that when young people do become sexually active they will protect themselves from the risk of pregnancy and STIs. Every prominent health and medical organization in the U.S., including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, has denounced abstinence-only sexuality programs and supported comprehensive sexuality education.
Why any political position would support ending a program designed to effectively prevent teen pregnancy is baffling. We need this programming in our state. In North Dakota high schools, 45 percent of youth are sexually active. In 2010 alone, 666 births occurred among women younger than 20 years old. Between 1991 and 2008, teen births in North Dakota cost taxpayers a total of $300 million.
Creating a state that supports healthy families is a priority in North Dakota. Let’s remember that our state’s health depends on the health of youth and the health and future of youth depends on our state. Investing in and supporting programs that we know can make a difference should be a priority and politics should have no place.
Secor-Turner and Randall are North Dakota State University researchers.