Mississippi has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the nation and there’s no reason to think those numbers are changing anytime soon. More than half of the state’s school districts have chosen an abstinence-only approach to sex ed, staring in the fall.
In total eighty-one districts will teach teens absolutely nothing about smart sexual health and education. Of those districts seventy-one have chosen abstinence-plus programs which could include a brief mention of contraception but would not demonstrate correct birth control usage such as condom demonstrations.
The state’s largest school district, DeSoto County, chose abstinence-only. The second-largest district, in the city of Jackson, chose abstinence-plus.
A study released last fall by nonprofits in the state showed births to teen or preteen mothers cost Mississippi $154.9 million in 2009. That included increased costs of foster care, social services and incarceration for young people born years ago to teen moms. It also took into account lost revenue from people who have lower levels of education and lower-paying jobs because they became parents when they were younger than 20.
The study was done by a nonprofit, nonpartisan group called the Mississippi Economic Policy Center and was sponsored by the Women’s Fund of Mississippi. It was also supported by Mississippi First, an advocacy group for health and education issues.
On the heels of that report, Mississippi enacted a law that requires school districts to teach some sort of sex education, beginning in this academic year. Districts had a June 30, 2012, deadline to choose abstinence-only or abstinence-plus. Under a previous law, Mississippi school districts were not required to teach either comprehensive sex education or abstinence. Districts were allowed to teach abstinence, but if they wanted to teach more than that, they needed local school board approval.
State Health Department statistics show that in 2009, there were 7,078 live births to mothers aged 10 to 19. That meant that for every 1,000 girls or women in that age group, about 64 gave birth to a baby who lived. The rate for the U.S. was 39 live births among every 1,000 girls or women younger than 20. The statistics do not include pregnancies that ended in stillbirths, miscarriages or abortions.
Mississippi has a public health crisis on its hands and the leaders of the state either don’t know or don’t care. Science, and not religion, should drive the substance of public health education, and sex ed is public health education. When it doesn’t, well, we get news like this out of Mississippi.
Photo from dizznbonn via flickr.