Planned Parenthood has seen teen births rise, fall, and rise again. After a 15-year national decline, teen births rose in 2006 and again in 2007, according to separate reports from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Considering that the Christian Right has muscled its way into public policy-making and convinced politicians to fund “abstinence-only” classes in many schools while de-funding sex education and access to birth control, and as the argument over abortion becomes more intense—sometimes murderous—with each election, the reason for the turnabout in teen pregnancies seems more transparent.
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Kim Rossow, outreach and education manager at Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota‘s (PPMNS) Minneapolis office, acknowledged that people in the reproductive health field face big challenges in today’s political environment, but won’t dwell on it.
Planned Parenthood continues to provide core birth control, testing and abortion services. Teens can still walk into a clinic and receive birth control and counseling without their parent’s permission, confirmed Rossow. (Minnesota law requires that both of a minor’s parents be informed of a decision to terminate a pregnancy, unless excused from the requirement by a judge.)
But Planned Parenthood also believes arming teens of both genders with evidence-based information, along with affordable birth control, is the most effective means to reducing teen births and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Founded in 1928, Planned Parenthood is one of the oldest national organizations dedicated to preventing teen and unwanted pregnancies in general. There are 27 Planned Parenthood clinics in the state, including seven in the metro area. Known mainly for its low or no cost birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, today Planned Parenthood also devotes significant resources to outreach and diversity programming.
“One thing that’s better now is that we have research,” said Rossow. “We know what works and we follow that. Research shows that comprehensive, fact-based information works to prevent teen pregnancy.”
Among its offerings are peer education, parent-child retreats, and teen leadership training.
Some programs, such as “Reach One Teach One” designed for 13 to 18 year olds, include financial incentives. After completing 30 hours of training, participants are paid to spread the word about healthy sexuality to others. “Teen Council” for 10th through 12th graders, provides training throughout the school year, and prepares students for public speaking at local schools and to community groups.
One program, “Youth Power,” now in its fourth year, is a 30-hour class aimed at African teens, ages 13 to 17. In addition to providing information on reproductive health, self esteem and body image, it teaches teens how to discuss sexual health with friends and family members.
Education and outreach staff participate in about 800 events a year, reaching about 14,000 people, said Rossow. Of those events, many are well-known fairs in the communities, such as International Women’s Day, Gay Pride, Juneteenth and Hmong New Year.
PPMNS has broadened its diversity programming to respond to the fast-changing demographics of the state, and has bilingual staff who bring information to the Hmong, Latina and African immigrant communities.
“In the past 15 to 20 years one of the challenges to emerge is being able to address health needs of immigrant populations that have no history of family planning or access to family planning services,” says Frederick Ndip, manager of PPMNS’s Community Initiatives program.
“We educate them on the availability of services, sometimes at no cost,” said Ndip.
Both Ndip and Rossow joined PPMNS about 5-1/2 years ago to help expand education and outreach efforts. They and other PPMNS staff collaborate with other organizations providing family planning services such as Fremont Community Clinics and Family Tree Clinic, among others, to avoid duplication. PPMNS staff also meet with youth incarcerated at the Hennepin County Juvenile Detention Center.
Numerous studies have found relationships between teen pregnancy and higher rates of poverty, heavier reliance on welfare, lower educational attainment, fewer employment opportunities and lower wages, according to research gathered by St. Paul-based Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting (MOAPPP).
Planned Parenthood is betting that its comprehensive sexuality education will lead to a generation of healthy adolescents and adults capable of making responsible sexual decisions.
The cash-strapped people of Minnesota might do well to root for their success. According to Minnesota Department of Human Services data, the state distributes more than $19 million a month to support the 32,000 Minnesota families that started with a teen birth.