Educating teens on contraception is vital to Weber County's economy

Friday , February 02, 2018 - 5:15 AM

Standard-Examiner Editorial Board

A bill that would allow teachers to openly talk about contraceptives in sexual education classes could be vital for the future of Weber County’s economy. 

That sounds like a dramatic stretch, but based on the data from local, state and national sources, there’s a good argument that the economic value of this bill can’t be overstated.  

House Bill 232, titled “Health Education Amendments,” would repeal state law and school board rule prohibiting teachers from “the advocacy or encouragement of the use of contraceptive methods or devices.”

As things stand, there’s an ambiguous line between “instruction in the areas of contraception” and “advocacy or encouragement of contraceptive methods” — the former is OK, the latter can get a teacher into trouble with the Utah Professional Practices Advisory Commission. Violations go on a teacher’s public professional record.

RELATED: State House bill seeks to amend sex education rule, prohibition

The bill was introduced by state Rep. Raymond Ward, R-Bountiful, and as of Feb. 1 did not have a senate sponsor. 

“I just heard from so many teachers that said they are afraid to talk about contraceptives,” Ward said. “If you are a teacher, what are you going to do? Skip the unit?”

Ward, a family physician, acknowledges that school might be the only place for many young people to learn about contraceptives.

So how does talking about contraceptives alter the course of Weber County’s economy? Stick with us while we connect the dots.

Weber County Commissioners have said addressing intergenerational poverty is a major economic focus. They’ve poured almost half a million dollars into contracts related to public relations and economic development in the last five years.

Commissioner James Ebert was featured in a December special section published by the National Association of Counties. He made the high value of relieving generations-long poverty clear.

“I was tasked with stabilizing and strengthening the general fund, and the best path I saw toward doing that was reducing the population in longterm poverty,” he told senior writer Charlie Ban. “It will bring an effectual change and have the biggest impact on our expenditures.”

That said, figures from the Utah Department of Health show five areas in Weber County where the rate of pregnant teens is way above — sometimes double — the state average. The state average is 17.6 pregnant girls for every 1,000 female teens. The national rate is 22.3.

The five highest areas in Weber County are:

  • Downtown Ogden — 39.2 pregnant girls per 1,000
  • Ben Lomond (the vicinity of the high school in Ogden School District) — 33.3 pregnant girls per 1,000
  • South Ogden — 26.8 pregnant teens per 1,000
  • Riverdale — 23.8 pregnant teens per 1,000
  • Roy/Hooper — 22.6 pregnant teens per 1,000

The Centers for Disease Control reports a grim outlook for teen mothers and their children. 

About half of teen moms are able to earn a high school diploma by age 22. Compare that to nine out of 10 girls who don’t give birth as teens graduating on time from high school. 

The cost of teen pregnancy — which carries higher risks for premature birth, low birth weight and other complications —, foster care, childbirth and other factors put $9.4 billion on American taxpayers’ shoulders in 2010 alone.

Add to that lost tax revenue because teen moms are more likely to drop out of school early and obtain less income.

And then there’s the kicker for Weber County: the children of teen mothers are more likely to achieve less in school, have more health problems, face unemployment and get incarcerated during adolescence. Daughters of teen moms are more likely to become teen moms themselves, too. And so the cycle will continue. 

Education about and access to contraceptives, however, could be a game-changer for families who’ve suffered for generations. Volumes of studies show abstinence-only sex education simply doesn’t work and more often than not, puts teens in danger of pregnancy, feelings of isolation and depression, and sexually transmitted infections. 

More teen pregnancies means a longer, harder, less successful battle against intergenerational poverty. It means Weber County more economically depressed and less able to achieve its goal of attracting booming new businesses. 

Meanwhile, Ward admits he has no idea if the bill will gain traction.

As he told Standard-Examiner reporter Sergio Martínez-Beltrán: “There are still some people who find the idea of contraceptives suspicious.”

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