Why limit help, information on sexual health?

March 19, 2006|By SUSAN REIMER

RECENT STUDIES ON TEEN pregnancy and abortion invite us to connect the statistical dots. But when we do, we don't get much of a picture.

The Guttmacher Institute, a research group that focuses on sexual health and family issues, reports that 33 states have made it more difficult for poor women and teenagers to get reproductive health care.

At a time when the public debate on abortion is roaring to new life, it doesn't make much sense to limit a woman's access to information and services that will prevent an unintended pregnancy, but there you have it.

In related news, The New York Times reported that its analysis of data shows that laws that require minors to notify their parents or get their permission to have an abortion have not reduced the number of teen abortions, as had been hoped.

In fact, the Times reported that doctors and workers at abortion clinics often saw parents pressing reluctant daughters to have abortions rather than trying to stop them.

In a separate study, researchers at Baruch College at City University of New York found that girls in Texas -- the largest and most populous of the 35 states to enforce parental notification -- are more likely to delay an abortion into the more dangerous second trimester if they were close to 18 and could therefore avoid telling their parents.

And across all these studies, researchers speculated that any decrease in teen pregnancy and abortion may be due to changes in behavior unrelated to any of this.

In other words, it may be that our kids are delaying sex and then protecting themselves when they have it, despite our best efforts to keep them uninformed about contraceptives and limit their access to them and their ability to pay for them.

We don't want our kids to have abortions, but we do everything we can to keep them from preventing pregnancy.

We don't teach them about contraceptives in school, we tell pharmacists they can refuse to sell them those contraceptives, we allow insurance companies to deny payment and we reduce funding to the clinics and agencies that can help them.

We make laws requiring parental permission to get birth control or have an abortion when we should be making laws requiring parents to talk openly and honestly and completely with their children about sex and sexual health.

We think that we can avoid all of this hassle if we just tell our kids not to have sex until they are married and that they will listen to us.

But apparently we don't think they will listen to us if we talk to them about the kind of life they can have if they don't get pregnant as a teenager.

"If you look at the United States," said Bill Albert of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, "it is a landscape of fertility chaos."

I couldn't have put it better myself.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

To hear an audio clip of this column and others, go to baltimoresun.com / reimer.

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