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    Tuesday, August 23, 2005

    Help Needed: Canton, Ohio school officials have a problem (emphasis mine):

    There are 490 female students at Timken High School, and 65 are pregnant, according to a recent report in the Canton Repository.

    The article reported that some would say that movies, TV, videogames, lazy parents and lax discipline may all be to blame.

    School officials are not sure what has caused so many pregnancies, but in response to them, the school is launching a three-prong educational program to address pregnancy, prevention and parenting.

    Maybe the teenage girls could clue them in.

    On a more serious note, this kind of thing probably has a lot to do with it:

    I recall a day there last spring, while waiting for an English class to let out, that a roomful of kids lauded a boy, no more than 16 or 17, for having become a “dad” the night before. A paper on the kid’s desk suggested he might struggle to spell that word.

    UPDATE: From a reader:

    You seem intelligent, thoughtful, and sensitive. Yet you have this huge blind spot.

    Teen pregnancy is the primary problem. Single teen mothers are destined to be poorly educated and poor. They will raise kids who are likely to be teen parents themselves.

    Contraception and changes in cultural attitudes toward teenage parenthood and fathers abandoning children are important. But surely abortion is an important option and should be made more accessable to these children, not less. With all its shortcomings, it offers a significant opportunity to break the cycle of teenage motherhood and impoverished, fatherless, neglected children.

    I don't know about intelligent and thoughtful, but I am sensitive. (Is that better than being excitable? Probably not.)

    We agree that cultural attitudes are key in teen pregnancy rates. But, how often does having an abortion "break the cycle"? In the experience of my patients, it doesn't. The girls (and boys) who are living in environments that celebrate (or at least condone) teen parenthood are not likely to seek abortions. Abortion and pre-conception contraceptives are available in Canton; they just aren't being used, probably because these kids and their families don't see teen pregnancy as a problem of the same magnitude as society does.
    At least, that's the impression that a lot of my young parents (and young grandparents) give me. Yes, they'll give lip service to the "it's a shame how this is going to interrupt her education" idea, but the truth is, they don't value education that much, either. (That sounds harsh, but it's true. The ability to appreciate the benefits of a good education is not intuitive.) This sort of attitude transcends race, but not economics. It is much more prevalent the lower you go on the socioeconomic ladder. Which is, in America anyways, closely tied to education.

    If each of these teenagers thought of their pregnancy was a one-time mistake of such a magnitude that it would never be repeated again if they could just wipe it out and get on with their lives, then abortion might be the answer (though still not an acceptable one to those of us who believe that life begins at conception.) However, in Canton, 25% of teen pregnancies are second pregnancies, suggesting they are not so much the result of "accidents" or "mistakes" as they are of laissez faire attitudes toward pregnancy and parenthood.

    The conventional wisdom may be that abortion helps the poor by breaking the cycle of poverty, but it doesn't really help the poor or break the cycle. It might help society by eventually eliminating the poor, but it doesn't, in most cases, pull people up out of poverty. However, community programs that provide goals and foster a sense of purpose in young people do help people pull themselves up out of poverty. They reduce teen pregnancy rates, too. Teenagers who have a sense of purpose and a plan for their future are less likely to let sex sideline them.

    Fostering an environment that helps change those cultural attitudes behind the teen pregnancy rates does a world more of good than aborting the babies. It's a more difficult task, but in the end, more humane.

    P.S. And isn't arguing that abortion is the solution to teenage pregnancy and proverty pretty much the same as arguing that execution is the solution to spousal abuse?

    posted by Sydney on 8/23/2005 04:52:00 PM 0 comments


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