Texas has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the country. Although the teen birth rate has been declining over the past decade, the Lone Star State still has the highest rate of repeat teen births, as an estimated 22 percent of teens who give birth have already had at least one child.
In light of those statistics, how is Texas’ Department of Health hoping to help prevent future unintended pregnancies among young women? By spending $1.2 million to build an abstinence-only website that doesn’t include any mention of contraception.
The “Our Town 4 Teens” site notes some sobering facts — Texas ranks first in the nation for taxpayer expenditures related to teen pregnancy, for example — but doesn’t actually offer concrete solutions for disseminating sexual health information. As the Texas Observer notes, “it seems primarily to be a home for buzzwords like ‘community mobilization,’ ‘strategic action’ and ‘conceptual framework.’ “
When the Texas Observer asked a health department official why “Our Town 4 Teens” doesn’t mention anything about birth control, a spokesperson replied, “The campaign focuses on the delay of sexual activity as a way to decrease the teen birth rate and the rate of sexually transmitted diseases. State laws guide the agency, and as a general strategy Texas is an abstinence-first state. Abstinence is our first choice for teens.”
The new site is partly funded by a federal grant from the Title V State Abstinence Education Grant Program. Title V recipients are supposed to earmark those federal funds for state-level programs that emphasize abstinence until marriage. The Title V funding was first attached to a provision in the 1996 welfare reform bill, and has been renewed periodically since then. For instance, a Republican-sponsored amendment attached to the Senate version of the health reform bill ended up extending the funding for the program through 2014.
The Obama administration has attempted to backtrack from abstinence-only programs — and the president actually eliminated the Title V fund in his 2010 federal budget — but social conservatives in Congress have fought back. The restoration of the abstinence grants was ultimately a concession to get Obamacare passed.
And, as the Texas Observer notes, the Lone Star State has chosen to aggressively seek out those funds. Texas’ health department tends to supplement federal funding for abstinence programs with its own state money, and the Republican lawmakers in the state have repeatedly enshrined abstinence-only education within their official party platform.
But progressives in the state have been pushing for more comprehensive sex ed resources. Over the summer, as Gov. Rick Perry (R) called multiple special legislative sessions to give lawmakers more time to push through abortion restrictions, thousands of Texans signed a petition asking Perry to support comprehensive sex ed instead. “Given your stated intention of reducing abortion in Texas, you should support policies that give women and teens the information they need to avoid unplanned pregnancies,” their petition stated.
National surveys have repeatedly found that teaching kids about birth control isn’t actually a controversial policy, and the vast majority of Americans support comprehensive sex ed.