Teen mothers are pro-life heroines

Taken from this week’s Catholic Universe – 14 July 2013

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Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for Education, is currently under pressure from MPs such as Diane Abbot and Caroline Lucas to introduce compulsory Sex and Relationship education into the curriculum reforms that are currently being formulated. One of the factors behind such calls is the claim that compulsory sex education would have an impact upon Britain’s level of teenage pregnancy which is amongst the highest in Western Europe.

There is no evidence to suggest that policy interventions, including compulsory sex education are having any effect whatsoever upon the rate of teenage pregnancy. In 1999, Tony Blair pumped £280 million into the creation of the Teenage Pregnancy Unit which aimed to reduce the number of teen pregnancies by an eventual 50%, five years later, instead of the hoped-for reduction, there was instead a rise of 0.6%, leading the then Chancellor, Ed Balls, to pledge an additional £20 million to the project.

Professor David Paton, chair of Industrial Economics at Nottingham University pointed out in August 2012 that researchers have been unable to find a correlation between Local Authorities judged to have best Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) policies and those with the biggest decreases in the teen pregnancy rate, which has remained static, give or take the odd blip, over the past forty years, which has only decreased by a small amount over the past few years. Whilst the decrease is welcome, it should be noted that there has been an explosion in the teen STD rate over the same period, indicating that while fewer teens may be falling pregnant, many more of them are contracting diseases which could lead to future infertility. This is due to the large uptake of long-acting-reversible contraceptives such as the hormonal implant which will protect against pregnancy but not against diseases. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that despite being armed with the knowledge on how to protect themselves against pregnancy, teenagers are still indulging in as much if not more risky sex, as ever before.

What is required is behaviour change, which conventional wisdom tries to advocate is neither achievable nor necessarily desirable, but countries which boast the lowest rates of teen pregnancies are those whose teenagers become sexually active at a much later age and have fewer partners.

Teenage pregnancy is for the most part undesirable because in the majority of cases it is unplanned, leads to abortion and presents significant barriers to human flourishing, in a society that is neither mentally, socially or economically equipped to deal with young unmarried mothers. Nonetheless we have to ask ourselves tough questions as Catholics as to whether or not we need to re-think some of our attitudes and stop demonising young pregnant teenagers as a measure of all that’s wrong with the world, if we want to re-build a culture of life.

What the teenage pregnancy statistics demonstrate is that young people are being duped into believing that there is such a concept of safe sex devoid of all consequences. According to statistics the contraceptive pill is the method of choice for teenage girls, which has a typical use failure rate of around 9%, a rate that is often higher in inexperienced or unreliable users who are not aware of the contraindications or the importance of taking it at precisely the same time every day. There is a staggering 18-21% failure rate per year when condoms are used as the main method to avoid pregnancy according to the  CDC – the American public health agency.

We therefore have to accept that a certain proportion of teenage girls will always fall pregnant in a society that promotes teenage sex as inevitable and morally neutral and whilst not encouraging teen pregnancy as being a status to which one should aspire, we should do whatever is in our power to nurture, support and protect those young girls who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant, while at the same time, working to change behavioural assumptions and expectations.

Obsessing over teen pregnancy statistics or the stigma of teen pregnancy does nothing to stem the tide of young girls knocking on the doors of the abortion clinic. To decide to continue with an unplanned pregnancy without a partner or spouse, without a reliable stable income and before one has finished one’s education is not reckless or irresponsible, but a brave act of heroism, of putting another’s life before yours in a culture that advocates abortion as being the only moral and acceptable solution for young girls. Being pregnant can be a terrifying and scary experience even when it is planned and is even more so for the fifteen or sixteen year old as she watches her life and her body spiral out of control.

Campaigns that aim to shame or stereotype young mothers such as the revolting ‘No Teen Pregnancy’ fronted by assorted teen American celebrities should have no place in any Christian institution or organisation. A child born to a young teenage mother is nothing more than a visible proof of a past sexual sin – something of which many of us are guilty of, only perhaps we have not been caught. I have been privileged to get to know many teen mums in the course of my life, all of whom have been an inspiration, not only in terms of how they have parented their child, the strong bond of mutual love has been a joy to witness, but who also went on to later success in terms of career and family lives. We should be supporting, thanking and asking what we can do to help these young women fulfill their potential as mothers, instead of pursing lips and writing them off.

Lest we forget, the mother of the greatest King of us all, was herself according to tradition, a young teenaged unmarried woman.

Worth £280 million of taxpayers’ money?

Just to recap, despite the introduction of compulsory sex education onto the National Curriculum by the Tories in 1993, followed by the establishment of the Teenage Pregnancy Unit by the Labour government in 1999 at a cost of £280 million, pregnancy rates have remained unchanged since the 1970s. The stated aims were to reduce rates by 15% in 2005 and by 50% in 2010.

Let’s examine precisely how close they got to achieving these targets shall we? In 1999 there were 49,900 conceptions by the under 18s. (numbers have been rounded to the nearest hundred and include both cohorts 13-15 and 15-17). In 2005, the figure was 50,200. Half way into the 10 year strategy, instead of the 15% decrease hoped for, there was in fact a slight rise of 0.6%. Ed Balls panicked and announced another £20.6 million to go into the program in February 2009.

In 2009, the latest full year figures available, teen conceptions numbered 45,500. Marvellous, a decrease at last, of 8.8% since 1999. Well short of the 15% target which was supposed to have been achieved 5 years previously with the desired 50% reduction seeming little more than a pipe-dream.

So, how are we doing now? Here’s a chart showing quarterly data from the last year, which includes the most up-to-date data which is available from March 2010.

It’s looking pretty static. No major changes, the extra £20.5 million given by Ed Balls is yet to have an impact. Both age cohorts experienced a slight rise in conceptions between March and June which over the course of the year gradually dropped to a lower rate, rose again and ended up close to where they started.

Interestingly the abortion rate in both age cohorts rose.

The abortion rate rose from 59% to 62% in under 16s and from 49% to 50.4% in under 18s, over the course of 2009.

Around 96% of abortions are carried out on the NHS. So, if we take 96% of 28,465, the total number of teen abortions carried out between March 2009 and March 2010, and multiply that figure by £500, the cost of the cheapest abortion procedure carried out by BPAS and Marie Stopes (the NHS refers/funds 91% of their abortions) that comes to a conservative total of £13.6 million.

So in 2009 we have an extra £20.5 million being spent to combat teenage pregnancy, on top of the £13.6 million being spent to carry out abortions on those for whom the strategy failed.

There are those who might argue that the £13.6 million is money well spent if it prevents welfare costs, which is a horribly cynical opinion all things considered, but nonetheless a perfectly valid position. However given that pregnancy is, in the overwhelming majority of cases, an entirely preventable condition, particularly amongst teenagers, then it could be argued that the £13.6 million is money that can ill afford to be spent, at a time of ever-shrinking resources, especially as the problem could be combated by a simple change in attitudes and behaviour.

Of course Marie Stopes and BPAS will be pushing for yet more access to contraception to teenagers at an increasingly younger age. Contraception has a notoriously high failure rate, it is estimated that around 50% of live births are unplanned, so it stands to reason that more teens being taught that sex can be ‘safe’ will result in more pregnancies and more abortions. Then that charitable organisation Marie Stopes, founded upon the principles of the wonderful lady who wrote letters of admiration to Hitler and who disinherited her son for the heinous crime of marrying a woman who wore glasses, will have more money to develop new business markets charitable ventures in developing countries. All funded by the UK taxpayer.

It’s a strategy that on the whole seems to be working. Have a little look at the teen conception rates resulting in abortion since 1990.

It’s fairly obvious which way the trend is going. It’s hardly surprising that the likes of BPAS are taking every single opportunity to fight to make abortion even easier to access, such as their campaign in the High Court earlier this year, to allow the abortion pill to be taken at home without medical supervision as well as attempts to change the law which currently requires the signature of two doctors, recognising that what was once safeguard against exploitation and a recognition of the seriousness of the procedure, has been reduced to nothing more than a rubber-stamping exercise.

Here are a few other charts which more than adequately illustrate the point.

No wonder those in the copulationary sex education business are laughing all the way to the bank. Money to promote their product and money to pay for their product. Every year over 60% of teens under 16 and over 50% of teens under 18 will seek an abortion. Kerching kerching kerching.

Meanwhile at the other end of the fertility scale, NICE is recommending that infertile couples should be allowed three cycles of IVF on the NHS, each cycle costing approximately £2,000. The biggest cause of infertility in the UK is women leaving it too late before starting a family. The average age of the first time mother in the UK has risen to 30. By the time a woman reaches the age of 35, her fertility will be 50% less than it was at the age of 25. At 40, it will be halved again. Most NHS trusts will not accept a patient for IVF until she is at least 35, when her chances of conceiving are between 17 and 25%.

So on the one hand we are spending millions of pounds assisting teenagers to interrupt their fertility at the moment it shows signs of commencement, whilst on the other, spending millions to deal with the aftermath. Absolute madness.

I am anticipating the inevitable howls of ideology and wishing to impose my morality on other people, by suggesting that different strategies could be employed to reduce these unacceptably high numbers of teen pregnancy and abortion. Of course the idea that teenagers should abstain from sex is no more ideological than the idea that they should feel free to have sex with whomsoever they choose, at whatever age they choose and as frequently as they choose, just so long as they behave in a “responsible and safe” fashion. Indeed the idea that sex can be risk-free and harmless so long as contraception is used is nothing more than wishful thinking with downright dangerous consequences. It is obvious which ideology has the greatest impact physically, emotionally and financially.