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The rise in teen moms

A rise in teen pregnancies – after years of decline – needs more than a political fight.

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One of the best signals for what is worst in American society is child births – by children. After dropping for 14 years, the birth rate among 15- to 19-year-olds suddenly went up in 2006 and, based on new figures, rose again in 2007. Even if the trend reverses, ways to curb teen pregnancy have once again become a topic for debate.

With Democrats now in charge in Washington, the long, bitter struggle between those pushing only sexual-abstinence programs and those emphasizing contraceptive education will likely lean toward the latter. President Obama and Congress have already cut aid to sexual-abstinence programs – the current federal favorite – and plan to do more.

The harsh intensity of that fight implies there are easy answers to this national challenge (the US far outranks other developed nations in teen births). But there are no easy answers. Even the most effective programs only reduce risky sexual behavior among teens by about one-third.

And in fact, teens may not take any type of sex education seriously if adults fight over it.

One specialist, Dr. Douglas Kirby, writes in a report on sex-education programs for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy: "Communities need to send clear, consistent messages about appropriate sexual behavior. Not every organization in a community needs to advocate every method of reducing the risk of teen pregnancy and [sexually transmitted diseases], but it is important that organizations avoid sending conflicting messages to young people."

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