Pitting abstinence vs. contraception won’t help avoid teen pregnancies
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If our true goal is to prevent teen pregnancy, it is important that we put our ideologies aside and look to the evidence about what will help us continue the enormous progress we have seen in recent years. And the evidence is clear: pitting abstinence versus contraception as strategies to help teens avoid too-early pregnancy and parenthood is not productive.

That is why we, at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, found many points in Valerie Huber’s op-ed "Sexual Risk Avoidance Education: Common sense, science and health are winning the day" to be troubling. Huber’s argument is one of ideology over evidence.

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Current federal funding for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPP Program) requires grantees to replicate one of 44 program models independently reviewed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

 

Each of these 44 programs have demonstrated, through rigorous evaluation, to change teens’ behavior. The TPP Program’s menu of effective programs offers a variety of interventions including many that are focused on both abstinence and contraception (not either/or), and in which teens who participated were ultimately found to wait longer to have sex than their peers who did not participate.

If abstinence is the goal, then evidence and results should be the measure of our success. 

These various models provide communities an ever-increasing and diverse menu of program options from which to choose in order to select a model that suits their community’s unique requirements and needs.

For example, a grantee in St. Louis is using an abstinence program; a grantee in Dallas is implementing a program focused on parent-child communication; and a grantee in West Virginia has elected to employ a program focused on healthy relationships in 19 rural counties throughout the state. No two program models are the same because no two communities are the same. But all of these programs are designed to meet their communities’ unique needs.

Importantly, the TPP Program also provides funding to evaluate new and innovative approaches to reduce teen pregnancy. This focus on innovation is critical in that it allows programs to improve and adapt in order to adjust to ever-changing teen culture and to meet grantees’ needs.

Of the 25 studies Huber references, four interventions in those studies are on the list of proven models that TPP Program grantees can choose to replicate — and many are indeed doing so. The first round of 5-year TPP Program grants were evaluated in 2016 using randomized control studies (RCTs) — the gold standard of evaluation.

The results of these evaluations showed that roughly 1 in 3 programs implemented by grantees had successfully demonstrated a positive impact. Experts say that typically only 10 to 20 percent of RCTs demonstrate positive impacts; by comparison, the TPP Program’s results are quite impressive. 

The TPP Program’s menu of effective programs offers a variety of interventions including many that are focused on both abstinence and contraception (not either/or), and in which teens who participated were ultimately found to wait longer to have sex than their peers who did not participate. If abstinence is the goal, then evidence and results should be the measure of our success.

Moreover, it is worth noting that there is strong bipartisan support for the TPP Program. By maintaining the federal investment in the program — with its commitment to evaluation and results — Congress can help to ensure that we continue the tremendous progress we have made as a nation to reduce our teen pregnancy rates and improve opportunities for all our youth.

Ginny Ehrlich is CEO of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.


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