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Advocates Hope Miss. Sex Education Law Proves Effective at Reducing Teen Pregnancy

September 25, 2012 — Mississippi educators and youth advocates hope that a state sex education law will reduce teen pregnancy rates and improve economic opportunity, Time reports (Carr, Time, 9/21).

Beginning this year, school districts are required to teach either abstinence-only or abstinence-plus curricula, which may include discussions on birth control but no condom demonstrations. Previously, school districts were not required to use a certain approach to sex education, but those that went beyond abstinence required school board approval (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/31).

According to one estimate, teen pregnancy in Mississippi -- including costs associated with school failure, child neglect and underemployment -- cost state taxpayers $155 million in 2009. Although the nationwide teen pregnancy rate declined by 37% from 2005 to 2008, the state's teen pregnancy rate decreased by 20% during the same period, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

"The kids in Mississippi have not been given medically accurate information about pregnancy and STDs," said Jamie Bardwell, director of programs at the Women's Fund of Mississippi. "Once we give them access to medically accurate information, we think behavior will change and the teen pregnancy rate will go down," Bardwell added.

Rachel Canter -- executive director of Mississippi First, which supports evidence-based sex education -- said some school districts resisted expanding their programs beyond abstinence-only methods. To date, slightly less than half of the state's districts have opted for an abstinence-plus curriculum. Of those, 39 chose an evidence-based curriculum endorsed by HHS (Time, 9/21).