- The Washington Times - Monday, July 12, 2010

Some 50 organizations recently banded together to launch a campaign to reduce births among Hispanic teens.

This will be an interesting story to watch.

Hispanic teens have posted their lowest birthrate in U.S. history, according to April data released by the National Center for Health Statistics. So it would seem the kids are doing all right.

But when compared with other racial and ethnic groups, Hispanic teens are still the most likely to have babies: Their birthrate is 77.4 births per 1,000 teens, compared with 62.9 births per 1,000 black teens and 26.7 births per 1,000 white teens.

I say this will be an interesting campaign because Hispanic teens bring new complexities to the pregnancy prevention issue.

For instance:

• Compared with other racial groups, Hispanic teens are more likely to be baby-friendly, meaning they are less likely to be “very upset” and more likely to be “pleased” if they become pregnant.

• Hispanic teens are less likely to be fastidious about using birth control - in fact, almost one in three skip it altogether, according to a 2005 research report by Child Trends. Hispanic girls are especially disinterested in the pill, with only 12 percent using it compared with 21 percent of high school girls in general, the report said.

• When it comes to abstaining, the Hispanic teens who do this are most likely to say it’s because premarital sex is against their religious or moral values. Fear of pregnancy is a distant second reason.

• And lest anyone think Hispanic teens are monolithic, note that Mexican teens have far more babies than Puerto Rican or Cuban teens.

So what kind of pregnancy prevention programs are likely to resonate with all these points? I think we are only starting to answer that question.

I would like to revisit a relevant news story I did in 2003. It posited that California and Texas were natural “test cases” on the effectiveness of contraceptive-based education versus abstinence-based education. Both states had large Hispanic populations, but California proudly eschewed Title V abstinence grants while Texas required its school districts to give preference to abstinence education. Which one would see lower teen birthrates?

I hate to mess with Texas, but California wins this one, hands down.

Between 1991 and 2005, Californias teen birthrate plummeted from 73.8 births per 1,000 teens to 38.8 births — the steepest drop in the nation.

Texas saw its teen birthrates fall, too, but only by 21 percent, from 78.4 births per 1,000 to 61.6 births.

This leaves Texas as one of the places with the highest numbers of teen moms, along with Mississippi, New Mexico and the District of Columbia.

In a recent article for Guttmacher Institute, Heather Boonstra touched on this California-Texas teen birth issue.

Since the 1990s, California put “strong emphasis” on giving teens comprehensive sex education and the health care services and counseling they need to prevent pregnancy, Ms. Boonstra wrote. “Above all,” she added, California’s success showed that “policies matter,” both in spending and providing “the right types of information and services.”

I have no doubt California will stay its (pregnancy prevention) course and even be front and center with the new Hispanic pregnancy prevention campaign: Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, California Democrat, has already endorsed it, and its major backers, the National Council of La Raza and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, have strong allies on the West Coast.

And Texas? It certainly looks like its abstinence education approach is on the ropes. Already some Texas school boards are moving away from “abstinence only” programs to “abstinence plus,” especially a homegrown curriculum called “Big Decisions.”

Abstinence education is regrouping and retooling after a decade of scrutiny. Let’s see how state-of-the-art sex education fares, especially on larger stages and with Hispanic teens who seem more averse to using birth control than having a baby.

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at [email protected]

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