Lawmakers in Mississippi haven't responded to pressure from groups pushing for comprehensive sex education, so health advocates put the problem into terms they could understand. In addition to the tremendous emotional and financial costs for teens who get pregnant, a new analysis found that these young parents cost the state $154.9 million in 2009. Yet, officials still say teaching kids about contraception should be optional.
According to the Associated Press, the nonprofit, nonpartisan group Mississippi Economic Policy Center came to the figure by calculating how much is spent on foster care, social services, and incarceration for children born to teen moms. (Or, as the AP disturbingly notes, preteeen moms.) Compared to other states, Mississippi has one of the highest rates of live birth among mothers ages 10 to 19. In 2009, 64.1 of every 1,000 Mississippi girls in that age group gave birth, while the number was 39 in every 1,000 in the U.S. overall. This number doesn't even reflect the total number of teen pregnancies in Mississippi, since some don't end in a live birth.
The state is trying to do something to address the problem, but unfortunately it's not prioritizing programs that go beyond encouraging kids to pledge to stay virgins on a photocopied piece of paper. Under a wild state law enacted this year, school districts are finally required to teach some form of sex education. However, it's up to the school to decide whether this program will be abstinence-only or "abstinence-plus," which also covers information about contraceptives and STDs. Schools aren't required to adopt one of these policies until next summer, and the law says programs can't involve showing kids how to use condoms. Apparently some adults find such talk offensive, and would prefer to deal with the much more uncomfortable situation of talking to teen girl who's already pregnant.
Carol Penick, executive director of the Women's Fund of Mississippi, which sponsored the research, said, "This is not an unsolvable problem." That is, the problem would be solvable, if adults weren't sticking their heads in the sand and forbidding schools from providing kids with the all the facts about preventing pregnancy.
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