May 4th, 2005, is the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, when teens around the country are asked to stop, think and take action to prevent unintended pregnancy. Although the rate of teen pregnancy has dropped over the last decade, nearly 850,000 U.S. teens still become pregnant each year, and the vast majority of these pregnancies are unintended.
So far this year, seven states have introduced legislation that would require health care professionals to notify a teen’s parents before providing condoms, birth control pills or other contraceptives. The fact is, even though teenagers in most states are guaranteed confidential access to sexual health services—including contraceptive services—results of a recent survey show that most teens visiting clinics for sexual health services have talked with their parents about their visits. There is no question that parents have an important role to play in protecting young people from unwanted pregnancies, and the evidence suggests they are already involved in doing so.
The evidence also suggests that laws that mandate parental involvement could actually increase rates of teen pregnancy. Seven in 10 teens whose parents do not know about their clinic visit report that in the face of such a requirement, they would stop using sexual health services. A quarter say they would continue to have sex, but instead of using a modern contraceptive method, they would rely on withdrawal or would simply have unprotected sex. Only 1% of teens say they would stop having sex. Laws limiting teens’ access to contraceptive services and information put young people at increased risk of unintended pregnancy and STIs.
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