The birth rate among teenagers 15 to 19 in the United States rose 3 percent in 2006, according to a report issued Wednesday, the first such increase since 1991. The finding surprised scholars and fueled a debate about whether the Bush administration’s abstinence-only sexual education efforts are working.

I personally think abstinence is the best idea for anyone who isn’t married. But I think the reality of life is far removed from that. It is way too simple and places too much expectation on teenagers and even unmarried 20 somethings.

Teenage birth rates are driven by rates of sex,contraception and abortion. In the 1990s, teenage sex rates dropped and condom use rose because teenagers were scared of AIDS, said Dr. John S. Santelli, chairman of the department of population and family health at Columbia University.

But recent advances in AIDS treatments have lowered concerns about the disease, and AIDS education efforts, which emphasized abstinence and condom use, have flagged.

Perhaps as a result, teenage sex rates have risen since 2001 and condom use has dropped since 2003. Abortion rates have held steady for a decade, although numbers from 2005 and 2006 are not available.

We could look at this data and say “well at least they aren’t aborting the babies,” but that would seem to miss the point as well. [In fact abortions are at their lowest point since 1974, according to a recent report].

The lone bright spot in Wednesday’s report, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was that the birth rate for girls 14 and under dropped to 0.6 percent per 1,000 from 0.7 percent. Birth rates rose 3 percent among teenagers ages 15 to 17 and 4 percent among those ages 18 and 19.

The largest increase came among black teenagers, but increases were also seen among whites, Hispanics and American Indians. Birth rates among Asian teenagers continued to drop.

Unmarried childbearing reached a record high in 2006, according to the disease control centers, with unmarried mothers now accounting for 38.5 percent of all births. Births among teenagers and unmarried women tend to lead to poor outcomes for their children.

The last sentence aside, the actual data presented shows that some programs are working, at least a little bit. So what does this mixed bag of data really mean? Why hasn’t this really been an election year issue?

I think politician’s have been so conscious of trying to get re-elected that they are afraid to make any real legislation that could impact things such as teen birth rate, abortions, and extra-marital sex. It is easier to say, “I am pro-life” and do nothing to end abortion or its many causes. The Evangelical movement has really dropped the ball on this area of life. Instead of trying to legislate morality and imposing mean-spirited legislation, why aren’t we offering love and hope? The Catholic church has long out-lawed any form of contraception, it would rather doom families and little children to poverty than to provide an avenue for family planning.

Yikes, I just said a dirty little word “family planning.” I don’t mean using abortion, but actively using birth control methods, while promoting abstinence. It is profane that we think today’s youth are all going to abstain and therefore we shouldn’t talk about safe sex or condom use. I may be a little cynical, but one cause of the AIDS epidemic in Africa is that many missionaries refused to believe that condoms could be an effective tool.

I guess this has become a somewhat rambling diatribe, but the report above from the New York Times really got my mind thinking. I’ve written before about my “un-Christian” thinking about abortion. It just upsets me that we are so passionately pro-life but don’t really do anything to try and make a difference in the world with our beliefs.

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