For years Texas has had one of the highest rates of teen births in the country — and that rate is rising. At the same time, the state’s education officials have bowed to the demands of the religious right, with more than nine out of 10 school districts teaching abstinence-only-until-marriage instead of medically accurate sex education. In fact, a report released in February of this year by the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund revealed that just 2 percent of the state’s school districts teach comprehensive sex education that includes medically accurate information about contraception and preventing sexually transmitted diseases.
But who do social conservatives blame for the epidemic of teen pregnancy in Texas? Mexicans — or more precisely, what they see as the moral failings of Mexicans. Says Cathie Adams, head of the far-right Texas Eagle Forum:
“If mom had a baby at age 15, are her morals going to be setting different standards than someone who has grown up in the American culture where that is not typical? As a matter of fact, we would look at someone impregnating a 15-year-old as child abuse.”
Rather than acknowledge the failure of abstinence-only programs that have a lock on the vast majority of Texas high school classrooms (and that waste millions of taxpayer dollars), Adams doubles down: teach the abstinence-only message in a variety of languages, she insists.
According to the group Child Trends, it’s true that the rate of teen births is higher for Hispanics than for non-Hispanic blacks and non-Hispanic whites nationally. But between 2006 and 2007, that rate declined for Hispanics while rising for the other two groups. Moreover, the state with the highest rate of teen births is Mississippi. The 2000 Census showed that just 1.4 percent of that state’s population was Hispanic or Latino.
Rather than criticizing the morals of immigrants, Adams would do well to address a primary cause for high rates of teen pregnancy: ignorance. Adams and others on the religious right think the solution to those high rates is to withhold critical information from teens. But that’s loco. Ignorance protects no one, especially not our young people. The statistics in Texas — the nation’s biggest abstinence-only experiment — seem to show that pretty clearly.