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Teen Pregnancy – Back in the Headlines

September 8, 2008

St. Paul, MN – Another high-profile teen pregnancy has caught the nation's attention - and not just in political circles. Reports that the unmarried daughter of a vice-presidential candidate is expecting a baby have educators, teen advocates - and young people - discussing what really works in reducing the teen pregnancy rate.

To Brigid Riley, executive director of the Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting (MOAPP), it's additional evidence that a one-dimensional approach to sex education should be reconsidered.

"The overemphasis on 'abstinence-only-until-marriage' programming in our country is really evident in this story, and in many stories across the country."

Supporters of an "abstinence-only" approach believe it is the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies and avoid sexually-transmitted disease. But Riley says federal support for such programs – which totals more than $200 million a year – has its downsides. It has, she believes, created a society of young people who don't have the information they need to build healthy relationships - or to navigate our sex-obsessed, popular culture. The result, she adds, is 750,000 unplanned teen pregnancies a year, nationwide.

While Riley says abstinence should be encouraged, she is quick to add that today's teens need a broader perspective.

"Young people who get high-quality information about sex-ed, sexual development, and how to prevent pregnancies, and HIV and STIs, will actually wait longer to become sexually active. They'll fewer partners over time, and they'll prevent the pregnancies and sexually-transmitted infections."

She says teens also need access to confidential medical services, and quality afterschool programs. And as a nation, she believes we should support teen families, to ensure that young parents have all necessary tools to raise a child.

Jim Wishner/Steve Powers, Public News Service - MN