Not surprisingly, recent headlines about free birth control really caught America’s attention.
A St. Louis research team tracked more than 9,000 women, many of them poor or uninsured, from 2008 to 2010. The women were given their choice of contraception at no cost – from birth control pills to foolproof, long-term options like the IUD or implants.
The effect on teen pregnancy was striking: 6.3 births per 1,000 teenagers in the study. The national rate was 34 births per 1,000 teens in 2010. There also were substantially lower rates of abortion: 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women in the study, compared with almost 20 abortions per 1,000 women nationally.
I wasn’t surprised by the results. What puzzles me instead is that we don’t hand out free birth control via shopping mall kiosks and high school cafeterias.
Teen pregnancy is usually a personal tragedy, or at the very least, a significant life derailment, for teen parents and any babies born to them. Unwanted pregnancy also presents an exorbitant societal price tag.
Offering teens free birth control is far cheaper, in terms of medical costs and long-term societal payments, than ignoring the fact that yes, 70% of teens are sexually active by age 19, and pregnancies resulting from unprotected teen sex cost our country millions of dollars over time. It has always shocked me that as a country we don’t adopt such a straightforward solution as evidenced in the St Louis study.
Doesn’t everyone in the country, Republicans, Democrats, and apolitical nonvoters, want to eliminate unwanted teen pregnancies and lower abortion frequency?
As I was munching on the study findings, I thought: what’s good for society has got to be good for my family too. I’m talking on a micro level. Why don’t I offer up free birth control – adult-free birth control, no strings attached, no questions asked – in my home?
I have two teenagers. Plus a parade of their teenage friends tromping through my house on a daily basis. I offer them carrot sticks and glasses of milk. Why not something that can impact their health far more profoundly? The study showed the contraception has to be free – in terms of money, shame, and privacy – in order to achieve those impressive results. Why don’t I have a bowl of condoms next to the tampons in my bathroom? A candy dish of Trojans next to the Hershey’s Kisses on my coffee table?
The easy answer is societal pressure. My husband would surely object – not because he favors teen pregnancy, but because he would likely be chagrined that his opinionated wife had lit a match once again. The next objection is that the teenagers themselves – including my own kids – might be embarrassed. The final blow would be that I, and my family, would eventually become the talk of the school, the neighborhood, and maybe even the whole city.
Is it possible that something as important as preventing unwanted teen pregnancy could be derailed by such bourgeois concerns?
But then my parenting brain, plus a few rebellious hormones left over from my own adolescence, starts howling.
I WANT teenagers, and my kids’ father, and the other parents in my milieu, to join hands in ending teen pregnancy. If I handed out free birth control in my home, we would all quickly be dissecting the pros and cons of free contraception, at my kitchen table, over lunch in the cafeteria, in car line, and at home at our own dining room tables. And – drum roll – my own kids would have a head start in avoiding a disastrous, too-early pregnancy. This isn’t a lame stunt. It’s pure social engineering brilliance: doing my part to distribute free birth control AND get parents, kids and teachers all talking about contraception.
So what if a few feathers get ruffled and some cheeks turn red. (Facial cheeks.) I can’t wait.