Major US effort urged to handle problems of teen parenthood. Special panel deals frankly with contraception, abortion issues
New recommendations have been emerging as American society and its elected leaders struggle with what to do about the problems posed by growing numbers of unmarried, teen-age mothers. The latest ideas, released Tuesday, call for major efforts by government and the private sector to prevent teens from becoming pregnant, and to help them in a wide variety of ways if they do. Nationally, an estimated 1 million teen-agers a year become pregnant, and approximately half of them keep their babies. The new recommendations emphasize that the public and government must provide sufficient support services to help teen-age parents. The ideas are the product of a two-year study of the problem by a panel of social scientists, physicians, and public-health specialists, appointed by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.
The panel's report comes at a time when increasing public attention is being focused on finding ways to stop the steady increase in the number of families who live on welfare from one generation to another, the so-called ``underclass'' that is a minor but growing part of the welfare rolls. Liberals and conservatives lately have found common agreement on a few principles:
That teen-age mothers should be required either to continue their education or to obtain training or jobs, in order that they ultimately could become self-sufficient.
That more attention should be paid, after decades of neglect, to teen fathers. They, too, should be required to shoulder their obligations ultimately to provide, at least financially, for their children. Those teen males who need additional education to obtain a job should be required to return to school; others should obligated to obtain either job training or jobs themselves.
The new report recommends a three-part strategy attempting to reduce the rate at which teen-agers become pregnant:
1.Make it clear to them that alternatives exist to early pregnancy, through ``life-planning courses, programmed to improve school performance; employment programs, and programs to provide role models for high-risk youth.'' The panel indicated that, though the effectiveness of such programs has not been demonstrated, efforts should be made at least ``as a basis for future policy and program development.''
2.Develop programs encouraging teens to say no to sex. The panel recommends ``efforts to influence the media treatment of sexuality.'' The group acknowledges that little evidence exists to document the effectiveness of this approach, but it says the effort is worth making.
3.Encourage ``diligent contraceptive use by all sexually active teen-agers,'' both male and female. The report recommends that this be the ``major strategy'' for reducing unplanned teen pregnancies, inasmuch as so little evidence now exists, it says, of the effectiveness of the other two approaches to prevention.
The detailed recommendations for making available both contraceptive knowledge and devices are among the report's most controversial. Contraceptive services, the report says, should be available to all teen-agers, at low or no cost, through programs of the federal and state governments. It recommends that sex-education programs ``include information on methods of contraception,'' including how to obtain contraceptives and how to use them. And it concludes that school systems should install contraceptive clinics in schools ``with large, high-risk populations.''
These last recommendations are contrary to what many concerned citizens and conservative groups believe should be done. They say that providing such information and services, especially in the schools, constitutes endorsement by adults of teen sexuality, and thus sends entirely the wrong message to adolescents.
The report also urges that pregnant teen-agers be able to choose abortion without being required to tell their parents, although it urges them to do so. And it says that appropriate supportive services must exist to aid teenage mothers, and to help the babies themselves, to give mothers and children the best prospects of escaping welfare dependency.