Even though the increased numbers of young women using effective forms of birth control have contributed to a steady decline in the teen birth rate over the past decade, Mississippi has retained the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the nation. At an event this week to address the issue of unintended pregnancy in the state, Gov. Phil Bryant (R) told reporters he believes that although most adolescents do know how to obtain and use contraception, “the problem is teenagers do not care enough” about using birth control.
The GOP governor cited an education campaign that his administration sponsored this year as an example of the steps he’s taking to address the problem:
Bryant appointed a group earlier this year to study ways to reduce teenage pregnancy, and it has also sponsored town-hall meetings in Jackson and Lexington. The group has posted several billboards around the state with a photo of a pregnant belly, complete with stretch marks, next to the slogan: “Scars may fade. A baby is FOREVER.” […]
Bryant told The Daily Leader that town-hall meetings to discuss teen pregnancy are important. “The road to success is in having an open, frank discussion and saying we need to stop this,” Bryant said.
Bryant has said repeatedly that he believes abstinence-only is the best approach to teaching young people about sex. It’s the approach that’s been used for years by the school districts that already were teaching optional classes about sex education.
In fact, Bryant’s approach to reducing the number of unintended pregnancies in his state is directly contradictory. Even though he claims Mississippi’s high teen pregnancy rate is not due to a lack of education about birth control, and rather a disregard for using it, the reality is that many teens choose to forgo contraception because they are grossly misinformed about how effective it is. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about one third of teen mothers decided not to use birth control when they became sexually active because they just didn’t believe they could get pregnant.
And that lack of education about effective contraception is a direct result of the abstinence-only education programs that Bryant supports. Studies have confirmed that when students aren’t given comprehensive, medically accurate information about how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, they end up with serious gaps in their sexual education.
A 2011 Mississippi state law requires that some kind of gender-separated sexual education must be offered in public schools, but the school districts are split between providing abstinence-only education classes and “abstinence plus” classes that — while still primarily pushing shame-based abstinence messages — include some mention about some forms of contraception. Even though Bryant’s billboards may be trying to tell teenagers that babies are “forever,” young adults won’t start getting the message about effectively preventing unintended pregnancy until they receive medically accurate information about it.