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Teen Birth Rates Are Hitting All-Time Low for an Obvious Reason . . . Planned Parenthood

With the GOP poised to soon force a vote over its “health care” bill that would slash funding to Planned Parenthood, a Friday report by the Center for Disease Control reveals a major victory for advocates for birth control access, sexual health education, and, of course, Planned Parenthood funding.

Teen birth rates are hitting historic lows, according to the study. The teen birth rate in the United States in 2016 fell 9 percent from 2015, with a record low for the age group of women from 15 to 19. Vox notes that “the sharp decline in teen births is great news because teen mothers are statistically more likely to drop out of school, fall below the poverty line, and miss opportunities to advance in the workplace.” Research has shown that states with abstinence-only sexual education policies appear to very tellingly have the highest rates of teen pregnancy.

In 2016, the birth rate for teenagers was around 20.3 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19, down from a rate of 22.3 births per 1,000.

This study forces us to imagine a nation in which funding for Planned Parenthood and other women’s health clinics is substantially slashed, and these clinics, offering low-income women and dependent minors birth control and invaluable sexual health education, are closed. It forces us to imagine a society without the protections of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, which has vastly widened access to affordable and even free birth control for low-income women.

The findings of this latest study seem obvious to most — offering young women birth control and teaching them how to use it, teaching them how to be safe and healthy, are going to prevent unintended pregnancies, among teenage girls. Better yet, birth control and education will also protect young women from the indignity, shame, and harassment that come with pregnancy for teenage girls still in high school, and from navigating increasingly restrictive laws and financial barriers around accessing abortion.

But amidst attacks by Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration on Planned Parenthood and the contraceptive mandate, it seems the study’s findings are not obvious to everyone, making it all the more important.

To Republican lawmakers who still falsely believe restrictions on abortion are more likely to prevent abortions than birth control, to the Mike Pences and Ted Cruzes of the party who have transformed “religious freedom” into a mechanism through which insurers can attack young women’s right to bodily autonomy, the study’s findings are not obvious, and they offer a direct counter-argument to Republican attempts to defund Planned Parenthood.

The next time Elizabeth Warren or some other Democratic, likely female senator takes to the Senate floor to defend Planned Parenthood, they should do so armed with excerpts of the Center for Disease Control’s latest study. Not that this will change the minds of Republican lawmakers determined to have their personal and religious beliefs wreck young women’s lives, as well as the economy. But the study’s findings just might be able to influence public opinion, and with 2018 just around the corner, this could be just as important.

This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.

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