Democrats were up in arms earlier this year when Health and Human Services (HHS) cut $213.6M from the Obama-era Teenage Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) program. The usual accusations about Republicans opposing birth control, hating women and all the rest were in the air and, of course, the conversation was eventually tied to abortion issues. The reality was something different however.
As the Free Beacon reports this week, cutting the funding was driven entirely by the fact that the program simply wasn’t working. An evaluation of the results showed that 73% of the programs supported by TPP had reported either no impact or a negative impact, defined as, “an increased probability of starting to have sex, increased probability of unprotected sex, and an increased probability of pregnancy.”
In an effort at trying something new, HHS is rolling out a research collaboration project aimed at gathering meaningful data and proposing solutions. Here’s the short version:
The project will focus on data-driven answers to a number of research questions about teen pregnancy. Researchers plan to focus on how best to communicate with teens about sex and the risks it presents, including through community conversations and over social media. The project is intended to contribute to the department’s goal of serving the health of America’s young people.
The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH) and Administration for Children and Families (ACF) will partner with Mathematica Policy Research and RTI International, two nonpartisan research firms with which the department was already collaborating. Research will be distributed over eight different initiatives, allocating money already appropriated to HHS’s Office of Adolescent Health, a senior HHS spokesperson told the Free Beacon.
I think the question we need to be tackling now is precisely how much better we can be doing. Sure, there’s still some room for improvement, but we are currently at the enviable end of a steady, 23-year decline in teen pregnancy rates. In 1991 there were 61.8 births per 1,000 girls and women between the ages of 15 and 19. By 2014 that number had dropped to 24.2.
Also, looking at the linked HHS data, we should also be careful in defining exactly how many of these teen pregnancies are a “problem.” Personally, I consider any unplanned pregnancy to a single girl or couple who weren’t ready and willing to bring a new life into the world at least somewhat problematic, at least in terms of optimal conditions for the child. But those HHS numbers show that 11% of those births were to married moms. Why count them at all? In fact, while perhaps still not ideal, any children born to even unmarried couples aged 18 or 19 who are living together and ready to procreate should not be part of the target demographic.
So how do you cut down on the remaining numbers? Education, obviously. But that only goes so far. (Young love is always wonderful until somebody winds up killing the rabbit.) Perhaps programs such as this could focus more on the incidents of STDs in girls and young women. (And the boys while they’re at it.) Here are some depressing statistics on that score.
Girls age 15 to 19 are second most common age group infected with chlamydia; boys of that age are the third most common. Girls age 15 to 19 are the second most prominent age group in the distribution of gonorrhea infections, and boys 15 to 19 are the second most prominent age group in the distribution of syphilis infections.
If we can’t get these kids to behave responsibly enough to avoid getting STDs at those rates we’re certainly not going to prevent all of them from getting knocked up. That’s not to say that we give up the ship, but trying something new and focusing on education with an impact has to be better than the old method. TPP simply wasn’t getting the job done. Perhaps in at least some communities we could divert some of the resources from reaching directly out to the kids and try to get the message through to their parents. It’s got to be worth a try.