The XX Factor

Teen Birth Rate Down; Thanks, Contraception!

Putting more resources toward making contraception accessible and affordable is the best bet for lowering the teen birth rate

Photo by Jean-Philippe Ksiazek/AFP/Getty Images.

While the Romney campaign tries valiantly to make the war on women strictly about the unseemliness of noticing that being a rich housewife is less work than being a servantless woman raising kids while holding down a full-time job, the real world keeps clicking on and producing more evidence of what women, especially young women, need to genuinely do better in life. Inconveniently for Republicans trying to deny that women have a need for easy access to contraception, the statistics are piling up to suggest that, in fact, easy access to contraception does matter. Today’s piece of evidence to toss onto the growing pile: The teen birthrate reached a historic low in 2010. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the reason is that kids are using contraception:

The most recent decline in teen births can be linked almost exclusively to improvements in teens’ contraceptive use, according to data from another CDC survey, the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG). The NSFG interviewed a nationally representative sample of teens from June 2006 to June 2008, and again from July 2008 to July 2010. While there was no significant change over those years in the overall proportion of females aged 15–19 who were sexually experienced or engaging in sexual activity, there was a dramatic shift in teen contraceptive use.

Kids aren’t just using contraception more, but opting for more effective kinds and using dual methods more often. Organizations like Planned Parenthood are maligned in right-wing media for reaching out to teens, but it’s hard to argue with results. They’re probably one of the major reasons kids these days are so good about using contraception, because they’re affordable, discreet, and not going to lay a bunch of shame on young people who go to them for contraception.

These numbers suggest that putting more resources toward making contraception accessible and affordable is the best bet for lowering the teen birth rate even more. The Obama plan to make prescription birth control free to anyone with insurance will help, but many teenagers will continue to be reluctant to go through their parents’ insurance, because unfortunately many parents still have unreasonably high expectations that teenagers will stay more chaste than they themselves were as kids. Unfortunately, many red states are going in exactly the wrong direction on this, avidly slashing funding for family planning clinics that make it easy for teenagers to access reliable contraception and, in places like Tennessee, doubling down on hysterical anti-sex propaganda in the schools. The numbers show that teenagers are eager to take a responsible approach to their early sexual experiences. Adults should be encouraging this responsibility instead of running around like a bunch of idiots who can’t believe that the post-pubescent set wants to have sex.