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Teens’ healthy future should include sex ed

May and June are exciting months for our teens. Proms, graduations and the usual end-of-school-year milestones are rites of passages we all anticipate and enjoy.

It’s also a fitting time to consider an issue that can interfere with those milestone accomplishments: teen pregnancy.

Teen pregnancy is associated with higher poverty, lower education, higher infant mortality and greater reliance on public support – not exactly the kind of bright futures we want for our young people.

These effects follow teens and their families for years – often, for generations.

Fortunately, we know what works to lower the teen pregnancy rate: access to birth control and comprehensive, medically accurate sex education. When teens have the information they need, they make smarter decisions about sex. Sex education that includes an abstinence-plus curriculum has been proven to help young people delay sex, and to use contraception and condoms when they do become sexually active.

In the last 20 years, the national teen pregnancy rate has declined significantly. However, it’s not declining as fast in Indiana as in the rest of the country. In Allen County, more than 450 teenagers between 15 and 19 years old become pregnant each year.

Across Indiana, 25 teenagers become pregnant every day – enough to fill a classroom. The majority are unintended. Consider these numbers from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and the Guttmacher Institute:

•62 percent of births from all unintended pregnancies in Indiana are paid for with taxpayer dollars. Each publicly funded birth costs, on average, $3,000 more than a birth paid for with private dollars, in part because unintended pregnancies are often high-risk.

•Teen child rearing in Indiana cost taxpayers at least $227 million in 2010. Most of these costs are associated with consequences for the children of teen mothers: higher health care costs, foster care, incarceration and lost tax revenue.

•Two-thirds of young unmarried mothers are poor, and an estimated 25 percent go on welfare within three years of a birth.

Comprehensive sex education is supported by organizations like the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. An overwhelming majority of parents say that birth control should be covered in high school sex education programs, and most want this information provided in middle school.

More than three-quarters of teens aged 15-17 say they need more information about birth control, HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Ideally, these conversations involve parents. But the numbers tell us that too often, teens aren’t getting the information they need at home.

At more than two dozen Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky health centers, including one in Fort Wayne, our trained health care professionals provide information and high-quality, affordable health care in a non-judgmental setting.

Through programs for teenagers and young adults – school-based programs, peer education groups and other youth-focused programs – PPINK provides teens with accurate information about the importance of protecting themselves against unintended pregnancy and STDs, and about healthy relationships.

For parents, we provide resources to help talk to teens about these critical topics.

Our goal is nothing short of eliminating unintended teen pregnancy in the communities we serve by encouraging teens to take charge of their reproductive health. To do this, we need teens, parents, educators and communities around the state to push for comprehensive, accurate education that includes abstinence. Together, we can give all teens a brighter future.

Betty Cockrum is director of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky. She wrote this for Indiana newspapers.

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