Teens Face Mixed Messages About Preventing Pregnancy

July 7, 2008 - 8:03 PM

Washington (CNSNews.com) - There may be agreement in Washington about the need to prevent teen pregnancy, but there is still sharp division over how to accomplish that goal.

Wednesday marks the first-ever National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Politicians, athletes and students gathered at the Capitol Tuesday to talk about the issue and publicize a new online effort to reach teenagers. The website features a quiz on sexuality.

"The campaign has a very specific goal and that is to reduce the rate of teen pregnancy by one-third between 1996-2005," said Isabel Sawhill, president of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. "I am pleased to announce that we are more than halfway there."

Rep. Michael Castle (R-Del.) said efforts to reduce the amount of teen pregnancy should revolve around abstinence and safe sex.

"Teen pregnancy is not a stand alone issue. Simply put, the efforts to reduce teen pregnancy must be a community-wide responsibility, and there is not one solution to this problem," Castle said. "There is not one way to approach this issue. You need parental involvement, you need abstinence where it is appropriate and you need sex education where it is appropriate. You need teen dialogue."

Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.) urged Republicans to work to create teen pregnancy prevention programs that are "effective, accurate and [have] scientific results."

"We have to fund programs that work," Harman said. "There is no point in funding an ideology if it doesn't work. That is not giving you the tools that you need to make the wise decisions."

At the urging of the Bush administration, the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted last month to appropriate $50 million annually to "abstinence only" education through the year 2007. Harman believes federal funds should be spent on both abstinence and safe sex.

"It is not as though we disagree about reducing teen pregnancy. I don't know a person in the Congress who disagrees. I don't know anyone who thinks it isn't a central goal of welfare reform to reduce teen pregnancy," Harman said. "But, I do know that there is a small group somewhere out there that is pushing an ideology and not pushing programs to reduce teen pregnancies."

National Football League star Jason Sehorn, who was raised by a single mother, spoke about the attitude that prevails among many of the nation's teens.

"The young men out there, in my mind, are the ones who make the biggest decisions. They are the ones who put the most pressure on. I was once a sixteen, seventeen-year kid. I know what my main goal was in high school and I know how difficult that is to get through," he said.

He also said parents must be careful about what they teach their children.

"Sometimes the line between having fun and being smart gets crossed. We have to be aware of what we teach our kids with abstinence, yes. But, we also have to be aware of what we teach our kids with how to be smart with the choices that we make," Sehorn said.

Cheryl Biddle, executive director of Abstinence the Better Choice, Inc. (ABC), said the risk of sending mixed messages is that no message will get across.

"There are two camps, basically. There are the folks who would say abstinence would be the best, but ... then they have the contraceptive education. In our case, we focus on abstinence until marriage education," she said.

"We agree with preventing teen pregnancy, but we really want to start before there. We want to start setting good dating habits, develop the concept of sexual integrity, respecting yourself and respecting the other person as much as you respect yourself," Biddle said.

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