It’s no secret that reproductive rights are a potent battleground for politicians. Whether you’re running for a local school board election, state representative, or President of the United States the public wants to know your policies on “women’s health issues.” You must declare your stance with a mere two words, pro-life or pro-choice, as though the issue is that cut and dried.
The reality is that within the quagmire that is reproductive rights, teen pregnancy prevention is a shining city on a hill. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reports that 92% of Democrats and 75% of Republicans (a total of 83% of adults) support the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP). And why not? Teen pregnancy is at a record low with the birth rate among all teens dropping by 42% since its peak in 2007. A victory that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle can laud as an example of success. Never mind that even with these significant declines, the United States still has the highest teen birth rate among nations that regard adolescent pregnancy as a social issue.
What does that actually mean? Let’s take a closer look at the statistics. The overall teen birthrate has dropped by 42% with even greater declines among Hispanic (50%), Asian or Pacific Islander (48%), and black (44%) teens versus their white peers (36%). Birthrates among younger teens (15-17) have dropped by 50% versus teens aged 18-19, which declined by 39%. Despite the faster declines in teen pregnancy rates in communities of color, ethnic disparities persist Hispanic and black teens aged 15-19 had birth rates at least twice as high as the rate among white teens with Asians and Pacific Islanders having the lowest birth rate, less than half the rate among whites (Pew Research Center, 2016).
It seems inexplicable that despite bipartisan support, alongside evidence of long-term success, that the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program is in jeopardy. TPPP actively funds programs, which are implementing evidence-based programs that consider the unique needs of the communities they serve. Those needs might include faith traditions, LGBTQ inclusivity, racial and ethnic makeup, and rural or urban locales. In its second round of grants, its awarded 81 grants for a five-year period that’s expected to serve more than 290,000 youth each year and over 1.2 million youth over the course of the five-year project.
In July, the House Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill that would eliminate funding for the program entirely in the 2017 fiscal year whereas the Senate’s spending bill would maintain funding for the program at $101 million, just below its $110 million for the 2016 fiscal year. Both bills would increase funding for a competitive abstinence education grant program. That means lawmakers are eliminating TPPP funding in favor of abstinence education, which will adversely affect minority teens more significantly than their white and Asian peers.
If we truly want to make America great, then we need to encourage elected officials to weigh in on the devastating effects of eliminating TPPP and its impact on local communities. While the funding crosses the nation, Texas (7), California (6), North Carolina (4), and South Carolina (4) have more projects in their states than the rest of the U.S. In Texas alone, that means eliminating $8,154,000 in funding to 7 programs run by nonprofits and educational institutions spanning the state.
When young men and women are not provided medically-correct information to make personal choices that will resonate through their entire lives, we are doing a disservice to them and our nation. We cannot allow our lawmakers to laud the significant strides that have been made to reduce unintended pregnancy while leaving behind communities of color just because the issue is less visible within our privileged communities.