The best way to prevent teenage pregnancies is to teach abstinence and a value-based curriculum, a task force report said Wednesday.
The Governor's Task Force on Teenage Pregnancy Prevention released its report, the culmination of nearly 18 months of interviews, surveys and hearings on how best to educate Utah's youth on the consequences of sexual activity.The task force recommendation shunned supporting the use of contraceptives as an alternative to abstinence, preferring to base education on the premise that the best sex for teenagers is no sex at all.
But a minority statement in the 82-page report said while promoting abstinence is essential, it ignores the realities found in a survey of more than 800 students - that one-third of Utah's high school teens already have had intercourse.
"A comprehensive program to prevent teenage pregnancy must include a prevention option for those teens who are and remain sexually active," the minority statement said.
"For teenagers who do not or will not choose abstinence, contraception is a safe and effective way to avoid the problems of early pregnancy and parenthood. This is especially true for teenage parents, sometimes married, who have already experienced a pregnancy."
The Utah Legislature in 1987 ordered the task force to define problems related to teenage pregnancy and develop, test and implement solutions to prevent teenage pregnancy.
"We wanted to know why the problem (of teenage pregnancy) seems to be getting bigger and bigger" when both the federal and state government are spending millions of dollars on prevention programs, Sen. Stephen J. Rees, R-Salt Lake, chairman of the 11-member committee, told the Education Interim Committee meeting Wednesday morning.
Simply put, the figures say more babies are born to teenage females in Utah compared to the national figures. But a lower percentage of Utah's teens get pregnant.
Teenage pregnancy rates in Utah rose in the late 1970s and peaked in 1980 at 46 pregnancies per 1,000 females age 15-17, the report said. That number has since declined to 35 teen pregnancies per 1,000 last year.
But during the same time, the proportion of teenage births to unmarried women has risen, and more than a third of all births to teenage females are outside marriage.
"Utah has a higher adolescent birth rate than the U.S. average," said Bryant Howe, a legislative staff member.
But Howe said the figures lead task members to "feel Utah has a lower sexual activity rate than the nation."
Influences on adolescent sexual activity include peer and parental support of values, Howe said. If parents and friends are supportive of a teen's belief that sex outside of marriage is wrong, then that child is less likely to engage in premarital intercourse.
A survey of 839 students in 17 Utah high schools found one-third are sexually active. The Utah average, the report said, is 32 percent compared to the U.S. average of 46 percent for 16-year-olds.
The task force recommendations for policies to be used in implementing a sex education curriculum include:
-Firmly base all adolescent pregnancy prevention programs on the principle of sexual abstinence among teenagers.
-Encourage adolescents who have had sexual intercourse to refrain from further sexual involvement.
-Not support the use of contraceptives as an alternative to sexual abstinence for teenagers.
-Allow the task force to continue to monitor implementation of its recommendations two years past the 1989 sunset provision.
-Develop and adopt a kindergarten-through-12th-grade curriculum on family life and human development as part of core curriculum requirements.
-Initiate a public education and information campaign to increase awareness of teen pregnancy and encourage prevention efforts.
-Target appropriate and effective intervention strategies toward youth at high risk for teenage sexual activity and pregnancy.
-Involve parents and guardians as much as possible.