Gender And Sexuality Column

The Trump administration doesn’t treat teen pregnancy like an issue. Here’s why it should.

Moriah Ratner | Staff Photographer

Disregarding its success, Trump plans to cut government funding for sexual education programs.

The only positive coming out of President Donald Trump’s administration right now is the plus sign on pregnancy tests as Trump cuts funding to the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Program.

The White House announced a proposal in late August to roll back $200 million in funding to the TPPP, an Obama-era initiative to revamp sexual education in public schools in hopes of lowering teenage pregnancy rates. Former President Barack Obama initially renewed the TPPP for five years in 2015, but it will end prematurely in 2018 if the Trump administration goes through with the funding cuts, per Teen Vogue.

The program’s proposed earlier end date is the result of “very weak evidence of positive impact of these programs,” according to a statement released by the Department of Health and Human Services. But if Trump was willing and able to look up statistics instead of creating them on his own, he would realize the exact opposite is true.

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Andy Mendes | Digital Design Editor

The national teen pregnancy rate has decreased 42 percent since 2007, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center study. That’s largely because of a change in the way sex education is handled in public schools.

Under Obama’s TPPP, more than 1 million teenagers have benefited from programs that focus not only on contraception and STIs, but abstinence as well. Believe it or not, liberals aren’t the sex-crazed, sinful deviants that conservatives may suggest they are.

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Andy Mendes | Digital Design Editor

For New York teenagers, who have grown up with a system largely similar to the TPPP, the rate of pregnancy has dropped from 60.7 per 1,000 teenage girls in 2005 to 33.2 in 2014, according to the New York State Department of Health.

New York City is a prime example of successful government-funded initiatives to combat teenage pregnancy. Under former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, city mandates forced public schools to provide in-depth health classes that discussed pregnancy, sexual health and diseases beyond the age-old abstinence trope. Increased comprehensive sex education and access to resources shaped a generation of educated, empowered young adults — and pregnancy rates dropped.

Marla Mendelson, a professor of medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said the Trump administration’s funding cuts are not only disadvantageous to women as a whole, but especially lower-income women and women of color. In an email, she condemned Trump’s lack of compassion as an appeal to his “misogynistic base.”

“The crux of the problem is that (Trump and his constituents) do not understand the future societal impact of racial, socioeconomic disparities,” she said. “The loss of TPPP as well as Planned Parenthood and their services is an issue that specifically targets these women and leaves them in even more vulnerable positions.”

Pregnancy rates in New York also reflect disparities between lower-income, minority women and their middle-class, white counterparts.

 

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Andy Mendes | Digital Design Editor

Our culture of socio-economic elitism creates major discrepancies between lower- and middle-class women, but it also leaves social mobility and advancement at a standstill. We end up with a twisted irony in which women who are in the most need of sexual education and preventative measures are the least likely to receive them.

Financially sound, middle-class women can afford the luxury of going to their gynecologist for birth control or a nearby drug store for condoms. Without state and federally mandated programs, women in low-income communities cannot afford this access, forcing this cycle to continue.

Since the start of TPPP, the national birthrate has dropped 40 percent, reaching a record low at a decline rate faster than any other period in the United States, per CNN. That drop is not the result of funding cuts or the pretense that celibacy is a realistic alternative to sex education.

Sex education isn’t about luring teenagers into sex before they’re physically and emotionally prepared to handle it. It’s about utilizing the power of knowledge to create real, systemic change in the way we talk about sex and, in turn, teach future generations how to approach it.

Sex isn’t a sin, but denying access to safe sex education for teenagers sure ought to be. 

Kelsey Thompson is a junior magazine journalism major. Her column appears biweekly. She can be reached at katho101@syr.edu.

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