May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month — and reflecting back on the past year, it is clear that we still have a long way to go. A 2006 report by the Guttmacher Institute found that Hawaii’s teen pregnancy rate was 71 per 1,000 teens ages 15-19 — giving us the 17th highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. More recently, the 2010 Hawaii Youth Risk Behavior Survey revealed that only 47 percent of sexually active teens are using condoms. That’s the lowest rate of condom use in the United States. Even fewer are using contraceptives: 82 percent reported having sexual intercourse without using birth control pills or other contraceptives.
The costs of teen pregnancy are immense. Teens who become pregnant are less likely to graduate from high school, with only 32 percent of teen mothers obtaining a diploma by the age of 30. They are more likely to need welfare assistance and be single parents. Their children also face obstacles as they are more likely to have physical and mental health problems, such as low birth weight and mental disabilities; be abused or neglected; and be placed into foster care. As a consequence, Hawaii spends almost $22 million a year on care and services related to teen child birth.
We can do more to prevent unintended teen pregnancy. We can continue to work towards ensuring that teens receive age-appropriate and effective sexual health education. During the 2011 legislative session, bills were introduced to require Hawaii’s public schools to provide comprehensive sexual health education. Unfortunately, the legislation did not progress through the session. Over the past several months, we’ve seen proposed cuts to federally funded teen pregnancy and sexual health education programs. We saw the threatened elimination of Title X Family Planning Programs, the main source for basic health care and pregnancy prevention for low-income, uninsured and underinsured women and adolescents. We saw attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, which in Hawaii serves more than 8,000 women every year.
As we struggle with our country’s continuing economic troubles, we can expect to have more difficult debates and choices. As we do so, let’s put the health and well-being of our teens as a top priority.
Finally, parents are essential to preventing teen pregnancy. They are the most important people in teens’ lives and have the most influence on the decisions they make. Talking to children about their sexual health and the family’s values and goals is tremendously important.
This month, let’s recommit ourselves to reducing teen pregnancy. Planned Parenthood of Hawaii (www.pphi.org) provides teens with education to help them make responsible choices about sex; we help parents talk more openly and effectively to their children about sexual health; and we provide teens access to health care and contraception.
Richard Borreca, who writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays, is on vacation.