Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Who’s the Daddy?

Leonard Pitts knows who the father of the Gloucester pregnancy pact story is.

The Gloucester story unfolds in the context of troubling recent news about teen sexuality. In March, a federal study reported that one in four American girls between the ages of 14 and 19 — and nearly half of all African-American girls in that same age range — are infected with at least one of four sexually transmitted diseases: human papillomavirus, chlamydia, genital herpes and trichomoniasis. In June, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that a steep decline in teen sexual activity through the 1990s leveled off between 2001 and 2007. And after years of decline, the teen birth rate rose by 3 percent between 2005 and 2006.

Some will seek to blame this disturbing news on Juno or Jamie Lynn Spears, but the trends predate both. They do not, however, predate the Bush administration’s abstinence-only policy, which requires that any groups or states receiving federal funds for pregnancy prevention not discuss contraception and must teach that sex outside marriage will lead to harmful psychological and physical effects. In other words, they cannot talk about sex or help children who do have sex to protect themselves. They can only tell them to say no.

Who can argue against saying no? What parent isn’t pro abstinence? But abstinence only? Anyone who thinks a teenager will never do a thing because she has been forbidden has never met a teenager. Common sense — and a 2007 study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy — tell us abstinence-only does not work. But since when does President Bush let common sense and fact trump ideology?

Gloucester is an aberration, but it might be an omen, too. And if it is, if these troubling numbers prove the leading edge of a new teen baby boom, we will have to answer many tough questions, but one won’t be tough at all.

We already know where it started. We already know who the father is.

I heard some right-wing nutball say something along the lines of “well, at least the girls didn’t choose to have abortions.” Yet I didn’t hear him — or the Bush administration — volunteer to help these children raise the babies or provide them with health care. For that, they’re practicing total abstinence.