West Virginia ranks among America's worst places regarding teen pregnancy that dooms many low-income girls and their babies to limited futures.
While the rest of the nation has enjoyed a one-quarter drop in births to 15- to 19-year-olds, West Virginia and North Dakota are the only two states that didn't improve between 2007 and 2011. The Mountain State has nearly 45 births per 1,000 teen girls, putting West Virginia among the 10 worst states.
This is disheartening, because girls who become single mothers often don't finish high school and live in poverty. Their children are more likely to fail in school, become delinquent, abuse dope, become unwed mothers themselves, be jobless, become jailed, and generally have less hope for the American Dream.
West Virginia Free, a Charleston-based women's rights group, issued a report outlining steps to help save more Mountain State girls. Top recommendations:
• "Support existing school-based health centers that include family planning services, contraceptives and expand these centers into more schools."
• Intensify factual, scientific sex education courses that teach teens how to avoid pregnancy and sexual diseases.
• Expand availability of emergency contraception, the "morning after" pills that prevent pregnancy from occurring.
• Boost community programs that help teens talk openly with their parents about sexuality.
Naturally, some mountain fundamentalists will protest that teaching teens to protect themselves or providing contraceptives through school clinics is "promoting promiscuity." But this narrow-minded thinking doesn't keep girls safe. It merely heaps humiliation on them (rather like the controversial "slut-shaming" abstinence-only lecture at George Washington High School).
Oddly, those protesters fervently oppose abortion -- yet they also oppose sensible sex education that helps girls avoid pregnancies that lead to termination. Bizarrely, "pro-life" forces cause more abortions.
Europe has shown that practical, matter-of-fact sex education keeps millions of girls safe, letting them complete their education and enter rewarding careers. The WV Free report noted:
"While the U.S. birthrate to teenagers decreased 25 percent from 2007 through 2011, teens in the United States continue to have more births than teens in any other industrialized country. Data from the World Bank in 2011 indicates that the Netherlands has a teen birthrate of 4 per 1,000 teenage girls, versus the U.S. birthrate of 31.3 per 1,000 teenage girls."
Another oddity: White girls in West Virginia have more babies than blacks or Hispanics do. WV Free says the rate is 50.6 babies per 1,000 white teen girls, while the black rate is 46.1 and the Hispanic one 46.We hope state leaders adopt goals in the WV Free report. Saving girls and helping them find bright futures is noble.