After a year of massive fires and floods, electricity blackouts, utility rate increases and gasoline price gouging, California at last has a good news story to enjoy: The state’s teenage birth rate has reached a new modern-era low.
But wait – that good news is threatened by the Donald Trump administration, which seeks to cut back Title X money that funds things like vans giving girls rides to community health centers where they can get birth control supplies, pregnancy testing and tests for sexually transmitted diseases.
This is now the subject of one in the long series of lawsuits California is fighting in order to preserve programs that keep the standard of living here high and pollution lower than it’s been in many decades.
Beyond the issue of why Trump and his minions would want to cut this funding – anti-abortion and birth control ideology is the likeliest reason – is the unanswered question of why this incarnation of the federal government would want to cut programs that reduce welfare and promote education of young persons.
In the face of political machinations, it may be constructive to delve into the reasons why birth rates are down among junior high and high school students.
And they have dropped considerably over the last few years. With just under 14 live births for every 1,000 females aged 15 to 19 in 2018, California is now well below the national average of 19 births per 1,000 females in that age range. Arkansas is highest with 33; Massachusetts lowest at just eight.
These figures mean there is still room for plenty of improvement here. That’s especially true in certain counties: Kern County, for example, had 32 live births per 1,000 young women, more than double the statewide rate. Marin County was lowest at six.
Both the national figures and those for California counties show strong correlation between low teenage birth rates and the wealth and education levels of adults. Massachusetts has the highest proportion of college-educated persons in America and Marin among the highest education rates for California counties. Both places also rank high in economic terms.
But more than increased prosperity and education has lowered the California numbers. Government and private programs also have helped enormously.
The state’s Family Planning, Access, Care and Treatment program provides free contraceptives and counseling to young people and is available at more than 2,000 locations statewide, including all University of California and Cal State University campus health centers.
The emphasis on contraception also reduced abortions even as California’s teen birth rate declined.
Abortions in 2018 were performed on 16 women out of every 1,000 in the 15-44 age range, a drop of about 15 percent over the last five years.
This demonstrates that pro-life lobbyists who advocate against both abortions and making contraceptives widely available are contradicting themselves. The better and the more widespread the contraceptive program, the fewer abortions in any state or area.
And contraceptives are very widely used by California youths. The federal Centers of Disease Control reported that more than half of all sexually active high school students in the state say they used a condom the last time they had sex. An overlapping 30 percent said they relied on birth control pills and other non-condom methods in their most recent sexual experience.
Then there was the failure of several statewide ballot measures that required parental consent for abortions. Because such consent remains optional for teenage girls, they can and often do seek counseling in large numbers. They might be inhibited if counselors were required to inform parents.
This all amounts to a vastly under-publicized good news story. For federal statistics over the last 10 years show that almost half of all teenage mothers leave school for at least a few years after giving birth. Those who don’t drop out must combine motherhood with studies and whatever jobs they hold, often crimping academic progress.
This deprives many young women of college educations and lowers their potential for professional and financial success, often for the rest of their lives.
The fact that fewer and fewer young women are now exposed to such hardships is a good news story of large proportions and one of which California can feel justifiably proud.
Email Thomas Elias at firstname.lastname@example.org. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net