Friday, March 20, 2009

Teen Pregnancy Skyrockets

Disturbing article from the Martinsville Bulletin today. Growing up here, I've always known our teen pregnancies were completely out of control--in high school, I think at any given time there were five pregnant teenagers walking the halls, and it was not at all uncommon to see 16-year-olds bringing their new babies to school for a tour, meeting faculty and friends. I even remember at least one girl becoming a mother in seventh grade.

But these numbers are pretty striking--they come out to about 70 per 1,000 in the city of Martinsville and about 41 per 1,000 in the county. It may not sound like much, but it's more than twice the state average; Martinsville's teen pregnancy rate is the second-highest in the state (curiously the same rank as our unemployment, which reached 18% last month). 

What's so daunting about this issue is how insidious it is. It's not like pregnant teens have a rough 9 months and then everything's back to normal--they're parents for the rest of their lives. The way I see it, there's a two-pronged approach to this problem: the first is damage control. We should call on our local churches to offer day care programs either for free or at a very low rate while their mothers are at school receiving the kind of specialized attention discussed in the article--the worst thing we can do is allow the countless teen mothers in our town to drop out of high school and be stuck in a life of poverty. 

Second, we have to prevent as many future unplanned pregnancies as possible. This is where the biggest controversies will arise--I can easily see an epic fight over access to contraceptives or education vs. abstinence-only. I will stop writing about it here, because I fear I'm opening a can of worms. But I think we all agree we have to do something about this problem.

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