Hooray! The teen pregnancy rate in New York City has dropped by 27 percent over the last decade, thanks to teens’ expanded access to contraception.
According to the city Health Department, the number of teens having sex has decreased, while the proportion using birth control has gone up.
The city has worked to make it easier for kids to get birth control — giving out condoms at schools and making birth control and Plan B available in some school clinics, a sometimes controversial move. But despite right-wing fervor over Plan B, it is an extremely safe medication that does not actually induce abortion.
More importantly, it is irresponsible to believe that high school freshmen don’t need access to contraception and sexual education.
City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said she thinks the pilot program will help fight against teen pregnancy.
“High school students are very sexually active and getting pregnant so we don’t have that luxury to think that they are too young to be engaged in conversations about contraception and sexual education,” Quinn told WCBS 880.
Indeed, the majority of parents whose children are enrolled in New York City’s public schools support the city’s initiative to expand access to this type of contraception.
It was last fall that the New York City Department of Education began implementing a pilot program in 13 schools across the city, which involved students as young as 14 at those schools getting access to Plan B emergency contraception. The program targets selected schools in poorer districts without health care centers and, if successful, the city plans to implement it citywide.
This was part of a wider effort to lower the rate of teen pregnancy, as some 7,000 New York residents under the age of 17 get pregnant each year.
Of course, this would not be so much of an issue if the Obama administration had not changed its mind and decided to require women under the age of 17 to obtain a prescription for Plan B, a move that could prevent adolescents from accessing the contraception they need in a timely manner.
New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley believes the numbers show that the strategy is working, and that teens are getting the message that sex can be risky. He refutes the allegation that making contraception more available to teens makes them more sexually active.
That argument of course makes no sense. Teens are going to be sexually active, and it’s a sign of maturity if they make the decision to use contraception.
But it is still not quite time to celebrate. Even though the teen pregnancy rate has fallen dramatically in New York City, it is still higher there than it is nationwide. It’s also true that there are big differences by race and neighborhood.
The Bronx has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the country, and African-American teens in New York City have a much higher pregnancy rate than their white counterparts — 110.7 births for every 1,000 back girls, compared with 16 births for every 1,000 white girls. That trend is evident on a national level, too. Black and Latina women have the highest rates of unplanned pregnancy and, subsequently, the highest rates of abortion.
Being aware of the connection between poverty and teen pregnancy is the first step, so New York City’s courageous program is taking the city’s teens in the right direction.
Kudos to the city for making this particularly progressive decision.
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