Teen Pregnancy: A Preventable Public Health Care Crisis

Article excerpt

Byline: Cecile Richards, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

There was Juno. There was Gloucester. There was Jamie Lynn Spears. And now, once again teen pregnancy has captured the attention of the media all across the country. Unfortunately, the media hype glamorizes an issue that is anything but glamorous.

As the mother of two teenagers, I recognize the real struggles families face keeping their kids healthy and safe.

Teen pregnancy happens to hundreds of thousands of girls each year from Bangor to San Antonio to Fresno. And, for the vast majority of these teens, the pregnancy was not planned. Most of these teens find themselves unexpectedly pregnant without the financial - or familial - resources to become a parent.

At Planned Parenthood health centers across the country, we see these teens, and their families, every single day. Last year, we provided sexuality education to 1.2 million teens and adults. And we see firsthand their struggle - their struggle to stay healthy, to make responsible decisions, to succeed in life.

This year alone, it is estimated that 750,000 teenage girls in the U.S. will become pregnant. That is more than 12 times the number of people diagnosed with AIDS in 2008 and more than the total number of people expected to die from some type of cancer this year. Put another way, 11 percent of all U.S. births are to teens.

What do these numbers tell us? First, whether we approve or not, our teens are having sex. By the time they turn 19, seven in ten teenagers have had sex at least once. And second, it tells us that when they have sex, they are not using protection.

But there's more: Pregnancy isn't the only consequence. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four teen girls has a sexually transmitted infection. The consequences of their actions can follow them for a lifetime. If that does not constitute a public health crisis, I don't know what does.

As parents, as a country, we don't want our kids to become parents when they aren't finished being children themselves. America's teenage girls and boys should be allowed to have their childhood; there is more than enough time for them in the future to bear the other responsibilities of adulthood and be parents. Parenting is too important to be left to chance. And the fact is that it doesn't have to be. …