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State teen pregnancy prevention efforts garner praise

May 21, 2010 | 10:51 am

Crib California has distinguished itself among states for its strong teen pregnancy prevention strategy dating back to the early 1990s, says the author of a paper published this week in the Guttmacher Policy Review. The state achieved these results by being bold enough to carve out its own strategy on teen pregnancy prevention and by bucking the popular politics of the last decade that promoted abstinence-only sex education, the report states.

The state's Department of Public Health reported in February that births to teen mothers reached a record low in 2008 of about 35 births per every 1,000. Nationwide, however, teen pregnancy rates have risen in recent years.

According to the report in the Guttmacher journal by Heather Boonstra, a senior public policy associate for the Guttmacher Institute, California's program was notable because the state made teen pregnancy prevention a priority and because the effort encompassed comprehensive sex education, healthcare services and counseling to prevent pregnancy. California is the only state that did not accept federal abstinence-only funds. Moreover, Boonstra said, California's 1997 launch of the Family PACT (Family Planning, Access, Care, and Treatment) program to provide reproductive health services and contraception free to low-income individuals was particularly successful in meeting the health needs of adolescents. Private sector foundations in the state also played a large role in teen pregnancy prevention efforts.

Further, the policy was bipartisan. The state's efforts to prevent teen pregnancy have spanned three administrations -- two Republicans and one Democratic. But this strong politic will be tested in the future with state budget cutbacks, Boonstra warned.

"The California experience demonstrates what can happen when there is long-term bipartisan support for a concerted, statewide effort, involving various actors from both the public and private sections, all working in the same direction," Boostra wrote. " ... In California, the whole of the effort clearly added up to more than the sum of its parts."

I like to think of the success of this program in terms of the teenagers. Because of fact-based sex education and access to reproductive health services, thousands of young women have been able to proceed with their education, jobs and lives without the premature responsibility of pregnancy and motherhood.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Louie Balukoff  /  Associated Press