If you live in Utah you have probably been reading a lot about the debate about Sexual Education for minors in public school. Do we teach them about condoms? Abstinence? Genital warts? None of the above? What? I am not posting what I think about the Sex-Ed debate. I am taking issue with a comment that is made over and over as part of the argument. A "statistic" that I have heard for YEARS surrounding this and other issues dealing with sexual morality among teenagers. A comment/statistic that has never made sense to me. Here's the general gist of the statement: Utah has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in the country.
That's it. That comment is touted constantly by people on both sides of the issue, but particularly when someone wants to point out that teaching abstinence (which is apparently all we do in Utah) doesn't work, or that Mormons are a bunch of hypocritical losers, or a variety of other things. I was thinking about it tonight because one of my seriously awesome friends posted that statement on her blog as she was sharing her thoughts about this hot-button issue. I don't take issue with her opinions or those of most other people, in fact I appreciate that we can flesh out an issue and let everyone's opinions be heard, but this comment gets under my skin, like seeing spelling or grammar mistakes on retail products or on a company website. (It's the English major in me, I guess, I can't help it. But seriously, could you pay somebody to proofread your stuff?? Could you pay ME? I'd be more than happy to do it! Sheesh.)
Back to the point. This statement that is thrown around about Utah having the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country was getting under my skin. So I did a Google search. It took me all of 5 seconds. It took me longer than that to read some of my findings but they were quite illuminating. The first one was from the Guttmacher Institute, which I confess I'd never heard of, but their website banner declares that they are "Advancing sexual and reproductive health worldwide through research, policy analysis and public education." Well, since they are all about educating the public, that's what I'd like to do (if, in this instance, "public" means all 10 of you who read my blog). The link to their study is here: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/USTPtrends.pdf
There was a lot of interesting information but the most pertinent I found was that in 2005 Utah ranked #45 in the nation in rate of pregnancy for teens aged 15-19. (page 13) There are other pages that show rates for teens younger than 15 is low in the country as well. That means there are 44 other states with higher teen pregnancy rates than Utah. That doesn't sound like a state with one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country to me.
Here was another one by a group you may have heard of: the CDC. This one deals mostly with different teen pregnancy rates among different races but the information I wanted was on the first page: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db46.pdf
The map on the first page shows "Teenage birth rates for 15-19 year olds by State, 2008" and if I'm not color blind I believe it shows that Utah ranks "Significantly lower than the US rate." That doesn't sound like a state with one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country to me, either.
I think it is one of the great blessings of living in the United States that we can have public discourse about issues that people think are important, that we can work to change policy, and that we have the means and technology to do so. What I think needs to change is correcting false rhetoric that is used by one side or the other simply to support their ideology. Public discourse needs to be honest, open-minded and correctly informed, otherwise we're just kids on a playground shouting "yes, it is! no, it isn't! yes, it is! no, it isn't!" back and forth at each other without ever actually accomplishing anything. So next time you hear or read something making a gross generalization in order to support a claim, please ask for the person's reference.