Legislation could increase access to birth control

Maria Esquinca, Copy Editor

Carol De Avila was 15 and a freshman at Coronado High School, when she realized she was three months pregnant.

“In high school everybody was having sex,” she said.

Although her parents had told her that sex was something married people did, De Avila’s mom encouraged her kids to ask them for birth control. But as a young 15-year old, De Avila found it difficult to ask for birth control.

“That’s hard to discuss with parents, especially at that age,” she said.

If enacted into law, a new bill introduced to the Texas Legislature could help teens to avoid that conversation.

House Bill 468, introduced by Texas Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, would allow 15-year-olds, who have already had a child and are unmarried, to obtain contraception without parental consent.

The bill amends Chapter 32 of the Family Code and also allows 16-year-olds, who reside separate and apart from their parents, to buy contraception.

“Currently, one in five teenage pregnancies in Texas is a repeat pregnancy,” said Joshua Carter, legislative assistant for Mary González, in an email. “We do not live in a perfect world where all parents are available or engaged and receptive to their teens regarding their reproductive health. This bill is a realistic approach to the issue of repeat teen pregnancy in Texas.”

A 2013 National Vital Statistics report by the Centers for Disease Control on national and state patterns regarding repeat pregnancies, revealed that Texas had the highest rate of repeat teen pregnancies, where 22 percent of teens who gave birth already had a child.

According to data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, teen pregnancy rates in Texas are higher than the national rate.

In 2011 the teen birth rate for girls aged 15-17 was 25.6 percent in Texas, representing 14,057 girls, compared to 15.4 percent in the U.S. The teen birth rate for girls 18-19 was 79 percent in Texas, while the national rate was 54.1 percent.

In a national ranking of teen birth rates by The National Campaign, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing unplanned pregnancies, Texas placed 46th in the nation with 41 births per 1,000 girls, one of the highest rates in the U.S.

In 2013 there were 37,525 teen births in the state and $1.1 billion spent on childbearing.

“It’s not necessarily fixing the problem, it’s one way of removing restrictions,” said Claudia Yoli, El Paso regional coordinator for the Texas Freedom Network, a non-partisan, grassroots organization.

Texas Freedom Network, along with the ACLU of Texas, Planned Parenthood Texas Votes, Texas Research Institute and Whole Woman’s Advocacy Alliance, lobbied for HB 468 on Feb. 26 and other bills as part of an advocacy day at the capitol.

The organizations form part of a coalition behind a multi-year campaign called “Trust, Respect, Access,” whose aim is to increase reproductive care in the state, include sex education, birth control and access to abortion.

“The main point of the coalition is to reverse the damage cause by the Texas anti-abortion laws,” Yoli said.

Currently, HB 468 is sitting in the State Affairs Committee after a hearing on the bill on March 18. During hearings, one of the arguments by critics is that it undermined parental rights.

“Many Republican-led legislations around the country do propose bills, similar to the fact, that the parents need to know what is going on with their child,” said Moises Blankenship, junior history major and president of the College Republicans. “In some districts, a child can’t even get an aspirin without asking the parent’s consent.”

Currently, the state has focused on abstinence education. According to Christine Minn, press officer for Texas Department of State Health Services, the abstinence-centered education program at the DSH provides grants to 11 contractors, who provide abstinence-curriculum to school districts or clubs, targeting grades 5-12.

Contractors must implement evidence-based abstinence education programs, approved by DSH and are required to pre-test and post-test students in order to assess the success of the programs.

“Students reported significantly greater STD/HIV knowledge, greater recognition of STD signs and symptoms and greater number of reasons to not have sex. Students also reported lower intentions to have sex in the next year, and greater intentions to be abstinent until the end of high school,” Minn said in an e-mail statement.

The contractor for El Paso is Draw the Line-Respect the Line. According to Sue Betty, health educator at the El Paso Department of Public Health, the program receives $125,000 per year in funding from DSH through a grant. The money funds purchasing the curriculum and training. This is the third year the program has been implemented.

The program services Canutillo, Anthony, Ysleta and Socorro Independent School Districts, and focuses on grades six through eight. The program is broken down into three parts per grade year.

“It’s really not about sex, it’s about resisting temptations,” Betty said when describing the sixth-grade portion of the program.

In seventh grade, they teach students about relationships, how to draw a line and show respect. It also covers STD’s. In eighth grade, the curriculum elaborates on relationships, and there is a lesson about HIV.

“The curriculum doesn’t cover birth control,” Betty said. “The message is to encourage abstinence.”

However, in 2007, a federally funded evaluation by Mathematic Policy Research Inc., titled “Title V Section 510, Abstinence Education Programs,” showed abstinence education programs do not work.

The findings showed “no overall impact on teen sexual activity, no differences in rates of unprotected sex, and some impacts on knowledge of STDs and perceived effectiveness of condoms and birth control pills.”

“We have to keep in mind that many people don’t wait anymore,” Blankenship said.

De Avila said she didn’t want to have a child at 15, but she never had a doubt about having her baby.

However, De Avila, who is now 24, and her husband do agree that it might’ve been better to have their daughter when they were older.

“It’s a huge problem now, everyone is having sex and everyone is having a child,” she said. “The problem is that they’re now aware that it’s there (birth control). If they had education and someone to go to, I think that would help.”

Maria Esquinca may be reached at [email protected]