Jackson, MS —
To fight Mississippi's highest-in-the-nation teen birth rate, is it best to give young people detailed information about contraception or to just tell them to abstain from sex before marriage?
Separate conferences Thursday at the Jackson Convention Complex offered competing views.
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant's office sponsored a conference that was, at times, like a church service complete with emotional testimony from young adults who regret having been sexually active when they were teens.
An earlier conference was sponsored by the Women's Fund of Mississippi. Educators, social workers and health care professionals discussed "abstinence-plus" sex education courses that are starting to be taught in 71 school districts. The courses include exercises to teach middle school students techniques for saying no to alcohol, sex or other things that make them uncomfortable. For older students, the courses also include information about contraception and the biology of human reproduction.
Bryant advocates an abstinence-until-marriage approach, and 81 school districts are teaching abstinence-only courses, under a new state law that requires each district to teach some sort of sex education courses starting this academic year. Three districts have a combination, with abstinence-only for younger students and abstinence-plus for older ones.
A racially mixed group of about 200 teenagers attended Bryant's conference, and he told them to delay parenthood until they're grown.
"If you want to fail in life, if you want to end up being on Medicaid — CHIPS and Medicaid and food stamps the rest of your life — if you never want to have a career, then all you've got to do is drop high school and have a baby," Bryant said. "And I can almost assure you that's what's going to happen to you."
CHIP is the state Children's Health Insurance Program, a government insurance program that covers children whose families make slightly too much money to qualify for Medicaid. Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation. With a population of just under 3 million, the state had 640,427 residents on Medicaid and 70,501 children on CHIP in August.