America’s youth is either extremely fertile or extremely uneducated. Every time I turn on MSNBC, Alex Witt is reporting on another teen pregnancy scandal, from a bizarre pact in Massachusetts that drove at least eight high school-aged girls to get pregnant on purpose to Nickelodeon star Jamie Lynn Spears becoming a 16-year-old mom- and wife-to-be. With the recent drama and irony surrounding Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin’s pregnant 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, political pundits and concerned parents are wondering if the wave of teen parents is an epidemic, a success for pro-life advocates or a product of inadequate sexual education in our school systems.
While the media has an unhealthy fascination with unearthing devastatingly dramatic secrets, coverage of young, single, pregnant mothers like Spears, singer Ashlee Simpson and British celebrity Kerry Katona is an unstoppable media wave. The constant coverage surrounding celebrity moms coincides with statistics reporting that teen pregnancy rates are rising for the first time in 14 years. Why are so many young women getting pregnant, and why are ordinary girls across the country finding it acceptable and desirable to be a mother at such a young age?
Though the media plays an active role in romanticizing underage pregnancy, insufficient sex education in our public schools is at the root of teenager’s naivety about pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease prevention.
And who’s to blame? Let’s start with the usual culprit: the Bush administration. The Bush administration’s consistent support for abstinence-only sexual education in public schools has ensured that the next generation of American teenagers will be less sexually educated than the last. The program supported by the administration focuses on getting students to understand the benefits of abstinence rather than teaching them how to prevent unwanted and unplanned pregnancies, STDs and HIV/AIDS.
When the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform researched Bush’s proposed “just say no” sexual education plan, it found that his administration skewed the scientific facts to favor an abstinence-only curriculum. The committee also referenced a 2001 scientific study that found that, even if students learn and understand the benefits of abstinence, “adolescents’ sexual beliefs, attitudes, and even intentions are … weak proxies for actual behaviors.” An abstinence-only program doesn’t prevent teen pregnancy, and by ignoring pregnancy- and STD-prevention methods, it puts entire generations of teens at high-risk for disease and unwanted pregnancies.
But President Bush isn’t really the only problem, and the fact that his term is nearly over gives us false hope. Should the Republicans take the White House, similar sexual education policy is likely. Both John McCain and Sarah Palin have an extensive history of support for these programs.
In November 2007, McCain voiced his support for President Bush’s abstinence-only programs. While campaigning, he told South Carolina voters that he plans to appoint Supreme Court judges who would overturn Roe v. Wade. In 2006, he voted against funding a scientifically accurate and comprehensive sex education program.
McCain’s running mate and soon-to-be 44-year-old grandmother is cut from the same cloth of restrictive and exceedingly conservative values. As Alaska governor, Palin cut more than $1 million from a state program that provided housing to teen mothers in need. In 2006 she said she would not support “explicit” sexual education programs.
If McCain and Palin become our leaders, a thorough, extensive and scientifically accurate sexual education program would not be supported, making teens unprepared to make educated sexual decisions. Our government would become an unrealistic and arguably misogynistic body that preaches unfounded faith in failing abstinence-only education programs.
I guess we’ll all have to learn to “just say no.”
Emily Michels is an LSA sophomore and a Daily senior editorial page editor.