Education vital in effort to fight teen pregnancy

Published 9:00 pm Sunday, December 2, 2012

Problems associated with teenage pregnancy continue to gain attention as state and local leaders look for solutions.

     Combating teenage pregnancy was the focus Tuesday as Gov. Phil Bryant, legislative leaders, health and community officials came to Brookhaven for a forum. Discussion touched on myriad reasons why teenage pregnancy is difficult to curtail and why the problem must be addressed.

     When teenage pregnancies occur, oftentimes the girls and their parents bear a disproportionate share of the responsibility for raising the child. Bryant offered some worthy ideas for targeting the man or boy who shared an equal role with the girl in the child’s conception.

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     While working with Attorney General Jim Hood, Bryant said he would be pushing for legislation mandating prosecution of adult males who impregnate teenage girls. Teenage pregnancy is not a partisan issue, and the Republican Bryant working with the state’s Democratic top lawyer represents a bipartisan approach to the fixing the problem.

     Among proposals aimed at the male side of the problem, Bryant mentioned increased prosecution of statutory rape cases, mandating child support payments where applicable and prohibiting hunting and other licenses. The hunting license legislation, it seems, would go a long way in helping males who impregnate teenage girls understand that they must take responsibility for their actions.

     Taking responsibility for actions, however, is only part of the solution, and more attention must be given to pregnancy prevention. That comes in the form of contraception, something Bryant believes teens are aware of but simply choose not to use.

      “The problem is teenagers do not care enough about using (it),” Bryant said.

     As expressed during the forum, that is where parents and communities can take an active role by communicating to young people about the consequences of teenage pregnancies. Increased awareness through education and communication that contraception must be used should be a part of any teenage pregnancy prevention effort.

     From a purely fiscal standpoint, unwanted teenage pregnancies risk creating a burden on families ill-equipped to handle raising a child. That, in turn, can add to the drain on limited state resources in form of increased demand for public assistance, which boils down to higher taxes.

     Bryant said concrete goals should include a 15 percent reduction in teen pregnancy rates in the state by 2017. He had some words for naysayers on the matter.

     “People say you can’t change it, it’s too far down the track,” Bryant said.

     In a bit of a stretched analogy, the governor pointed to the example of smoking as something where attitudes have changed drastically.

     “There’s behavior we’ve been able to change,” Bryant said.

     True, but unlike smoking, there is no obvious “secondhand” impact on the public at large from teenage pregnancy. There is no comparable immediate discomfort to having to breath in cigarette smoke from someone at a nearby table or in the same room.

     Like smoking, though, the long-term effects of teenage pregnancy can and do an impact on others in the form of increased costs for government services like health care and other types of public assistance. In that regard, the analogy works and the need for action is evident.

     From parents at home to the community at large, curbing teenage pregnancy will take a combined effort by all involved. The growing impact of teenage pregnancy on our state’s future is too great to ignore.