Teen Pregnancy, Misunderstood | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Teen Pregnancy, Misunderstood

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Laurie Bertram Roberts

The new state teen pregnancy rankings recently came out. The numbers measure births to young women ages 15 to 19. For the first time in a long while, Mississippi is No. 2, coming in behind New Mexico and ahead of Texas. I'm sure our governor is going to take a victory lap, claiming that his campaign based on abstinence-only and shaming teens into not having sex is to be credited. I, for one, heavily doubt it is responsible for the change.

The real things that cause teens to get pregnant are the exact problems he doesn't want to address— poverty, underfunded education and lack of access to quality, nonjudgmental health care. As long as those issues plague us, not much will change.

Study after study has shown that it isn't being a teen mom that causes poverty; poverty and lack of opportunity cause teen pregnancy. As one girl told me: "I might as well have a baby now. I'm not going to college anyway." If your main prospect is working at Walmart, you can do that whether you have a baby at 18 or not.

That's not to say teens are getting pregnant on purpose. It just means that some have less incentive to care about being extra cautious. Many others face judgment when they attempt to access reproductive health care rather than just receiving the care they need.

At the teen clinic in my neighborhood, young women are told things like, "I hope you are pregnant so you learn your lesson" and "you shouldn't be having sex anyway" when trying to access reproductive health care. It takes a lot of courage for teens to go to a clinic. Shaming them when they get there doesn't encourage them to come back or tell their friends it's a safe place to go.

People love to say, "everyone knows sex can get you pregnant." However, knowing sex causes pregnancy and how to effectively prevent it are two different things. We often expect teens to fend for themselves with half the information, then stand back and judge them when they fail.

It is vital to teach teens about their bodies and give them the knowledge and tools for family planning. They will need this knowledge whether they abstain from sex until they find their one true love (not everyone in this state can get married) or choose to be intimate with many partners over their lifetimes.

If we love and respect our teens, we will address the root issues of teen pregnancy instead of giving moral lectures and trying to freeze their biological clocks. The teens I work with constantly say they would like it if we "grown folks" would stop talking to them like they are stupid—maybe we should listen.

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