I apologize for the extensive quoting here, but I want to be fair. Mississippi is not nearly as backwards as the rest of the country thinks it is. Nor is it as enlightened as it thinks it is. We have poverty and ignorance. We have progress and hope.
Mississippi, the poorest U.S. state, has the nation's highest teen pregnancy rate. Yet until this year, the state allowed schools to forgo sex education entirely.So, progress. Districts can choose between ineffective abstinence only sex education, or less ineffective abstinence-plus programs.
That changed with a state law passed last year that mandated school districts adopt either abstinence-only or abstinence-plus sex education policies. Before the new law, any district that did teach sex education had to teach abstinence-only.
The state also has one of the nation's highest infant mortality rates and among the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea infections among teens and young adults, according to the Mississippi Department of Health.It isn't just about pregnancy, contrary to the just say no crowd. It is about life and death. Disease and health.
Coahoma County in the Mississippi delta, which at 23 percent had one of the state's highest rates of births to teens, recently adopted an abstinence-plus program after four years of teaching abstinence-only, said Superintendent Pauline Rhodes.It isn't just about sex; it is about the future of a state, of a region. We have serious brain drain in Mississippi, especially in the Mississippi Delta. Those with the most promise leave; those who are stuck, stay.
"I've seen first-hand the devastation of children having children, and I have seen students on their way to a promising career have to drop out," Rhodes said. "I've always felt that until we can get a handle on teen pregnancies, we will not be able to get a handle on juvenile delinquencies."
It is a complex matter: life and death, disease and health, the economic future of the poorest state in the nation.
Enter Governor Phil Bryant, and the Mississippi legislature, masters of complexity.
Mississippi will require doctors to collect umbilical cord blood from babies born to some young mothers, under a new law intended to identify statutory rapists and reduce the state's rate of teenage pregnancy, the highest in the country.That is right. To reduce teenage pregnancy, we will collect blood to possibly prosecute potential statutory rape. Because that is what leads to high teenage pregnancy. Unpunished sex. I know, you are thinking, a lot of teenage pregnancy is a result of statutory rape. And it is.
Recent studies indicate that at least half of all babies born to minor women are fathered by adult men.1 In addition, there is a widespread perception that these young mothers account for the large increase in welfare caseloads over the last 25 years.Something must be done about predatory males.
Most experts, however, do not believe that greater enforcement of statutory rape laws can significantly reduce adolescent pregnancy and birth rates. As DePaul University associate law professor Michelle Oberman observes, statutory rape laws are probably necessary because "minor girls are...uniquely vulnerable to coercion and exploitation in their sexual decisionmaking."5Lock them up!!
At the same time, she notes, "drawing a connection between enforcing these laws and lowering adolescent pregnancy rates flies in the face of everything we know about why girls get pregnant and why they choose to continue their pregnancies. The problem is much more complicated than simply older men preying on younger women."6 As Oberman and others observe, adolescent childbearing is the result of an intricate web of factors, including limited opportunity, entrenched poverty, low self-esteem and many other issues that statutory rape laws do not address.Read the Guttmacher article, it is comprehensive. But I will list what I believe are the biggest problems with this approach:
1. It emphasizes punishment while providing no support for the mother or the child
2. It would prevent girls from seeking help for a pregnancy
3. It would drive the fathers away from the girls to avoid identification
4. It ignores cultural norms
5. It could lead to more abandoned babies as mothers try to avoid supervised births
6. Unless the law is well publicized, it will not have the desired deterrent effect.