Question 81



By Lisa Everett, co-director of the Office of Family Life for the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. 

Planned Parenthood of Indiana has launched a campaign to push for “comprehensive” sexuality education in our schools, which would include instructing teens in the use of contraceptives. A recent editorial in the South Bend Tribune by the vice president for education and training for Planned Parenthood of Indiana made some misleading claims about the effectiveness of this “education.” 

The truth that Planned Parenthood has known for decades is that teens who learn about contraception in school are significantly more likely to become sexually active. According to a 1987 poll conducted for Planned Parenthood by Louis Harris, the rate of sexual activity among teens who took a “comprehensive” sex-ed course was more than one-third higher than among teens who either had no sex education in school, or who had taken a course that taught reproduction but left out the promotion of contraception. 

Going a step further, as Planned Parenthood does, and actually targeting teens for contraceptive “services” only makes the problem worse. Stan Weed, director for the Institute for Research and Evaluation, documented this fact in two separate studies that found that as the number and proportion of teenage family-planning clients increased, there was “a corresponding increase in the teen-age pregnancy and abortion rates: 50 to 120 more pregnancies per thousand clients rather than the 200 or 300 fewer pregnancies as estimated by researchers at the Alan Guttmacher Institute (the former research arm of PPFA). … In that same time period, when the size of the teen population was little changed, teen abortion went from 190,000 to 430,000.” Recent studies in England have reaffirmed that increased access to contraception for teens leads to higher pregnancy and abortion rates, as well as a dramatic increase in sexually transmitted disease rates among 10 to 19-year-old girls. 

The problem with “comprehensive” sex ed is that, even if abstinence is encouraged, teaching teens how to use contraception is like speaking out of both sides of one’s mouth. Simply put, teens who are taught in school how to use contraception believe that they are being given “permission” to have sex as long as they use “protection.” More teens having sex inevitably leads to higher rates of teen pregnancy, abortion and STDs because, to be highly effective, contraceptives have to be used correctly and consistently. 

According to a 1986 article in the journal Family Planning Perspectives, the “typical use” failure rate for teens using condoms to prevent pregnancy is over 18 percent, while the “typical use” failure rate for teens on the Pill is 11 percent. In addition, oral contraceptives do nothing to prevent the transmission of STDs, and have recently been classified by the World Health Organization as Group 1 carcinogens, causing breast, cervical and liver cancer in humans. Teenage girls are especially vulnerable to breast cancer risk from the Pill because their breasts are still growing and will not develop mature, cancer-resistant cells until they have had a full-term pregnancy. 

Even the evolution of Planned Parenthood’s own mission is evidence of the colossal “real life” failure of contraception. In the early 1960s, Planned Parenthood insisted that its mission had nothing to do with abortion. But having found that contraceptives are not always effective, and having assured their clients that their sexual activity would be pregnancy-free, PPFA became committed to providing a “back-up” to contraceptive failure, thus becoming the largest network of abortion providers in the world. That many people do use abortion as a back-up to failed contraception is shown by studies which have found that among women who have abortions, over 80 percent are experienced contraceptive users, and over half say they were using a contraceptive in the month they conceived. 

In addition, the Alan Guttmacher Institute published data in 2000, which clearly showed that states (such as New York and California) that ranked highest in access to contraception also had the highest abortion rates in the country. 

But the most significant problem with promoting contraception among teens is that it ignores the emotional and spiritual dimensions of sex. Recent research in the field of biochemistry has shown clearly that chemicals released during sexual activity, such as oxytocin and vasopressin, permanently alter body chemistry and promote strong emotional bonding between the partners. Once these bonds are established, disrupting them causes terrible distress. 

Surely we want to protect our teens from the kind of heartbreak that even many adults find devastating. And as William Bennett, former U.S. Secretary of Education, once wrote with his customary candor: “Sex education is about character and the formation of character. A sex-education course in which issues of right and wrong do not occupy center stage is an evasion and an irresponsibility.” 

Abstinence-only advocates are often criticized as not living in the “real world.” But in the real world, teens tend to live up to our expectations if we raise the bar high, and they tend to live down to our expectations if we lower that bar. 

Recent studies have found that the number of teens delaying sexual activity is responsible for a large part of the reduced abortion rate in recent years in our country. Surely in this most important area of education in sexuality, our teens deserve parents and teachers who raise the bar high and help them to reach it.