While the national teen birth rate has slowed, Texas has made far less headway, alarming public health officials and child advocates.
Texas teens lead the nation in having babies. Last month, the nonprofit group Child Trends conferred another No. 1 ranking on Texas. In the latest statistics available, 24 percent of the state’s teen births in 2004 were not the girl’s first delivery.
“That astounded me,” said Kathryn Allen, senior vice president for community relations at Planned Parenthood of North Texas. “I mean, what are we doing wrong?”
Texas’ policy is to deny contraceptives without parental consent wherever possible and to push an abstinence-only sex education program in public schools.
Experts, though, are questioning that approach. They note that from 1991 to 2004, the state’s teen birth rate dropped by 19 percent, while the U.S. rate dipped by one-third.
By contrast, California, which has seen its teen birth rate drop by 47 percent in the same period, teaches abstinence but also explains contraception at school and has gone to dispensing birth control to teenage boys and girls – for free, no parental consent required – in community clinics and doctors’ offices.