BROOKHAVEN, Miss. — Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant said this week that he believes most teenagers know how to obtain and use contraception, but too many are failing to do so.
“The problem is teenagers do not care enough about using (it),” Republican Bryant said Tuesday during a public forum in Brookhaven.
He was one of several elected officials and health professionals who discussed ways to reduce Mississippi’s teenage pregnancy rate, which has long been among the highest in the nation.
Bryant said he’ll be pushing for legislation to require prosecution of adult men who impregnate teenage girls. Mississippi already has a statutory rape law, and it was not immediately clear how Bryant’s proposal will differ from that.
Bryant appointed a group earlier this year to study ways to reduce teenage pregnancy, and it has also sponsored town-hall meetings in Jackson and Lexington. The group has posted several billboards around the state with a photo of a pregnant belly, complete with stretch marks, next to the slogan: “Scars may fade. A baby is FOREVER.”
Bryant told The Daily Leader that town-hall meetings to discuss teen pregnancy are important.
“The road to success is in having an open, frank discussion and saying we need to stop this,” Bryant said.
Nycole Campbell-Lewis, a member of the governor’s task force on reducing teen pregnancy, said at the Brookhaven forum that local communities need to get involved in solving the problem.
Bryant has said repeatedly that he believes abstinence-only is the best approach to teaching young people about sex. It’s the approach that’s been used for years by the school districts that already were teaching optional classes about sex education.
A Mississippi law enacted in 2011 requires school districts to teach some sort of sex education, beginning in the 2012-13 academic year. Districts had a June 30, 2012, deadline to choose abstinence-only or “abstinence-plus,” which could include the mention of contraception but still without any demonstration of how to use condoms.
Eighty-one districts chose abstinence-only, 71 chose abstinence-plus and three districts are taking a split approach, with abstinence-only for younger grades and abstinence-plus for older grades.
Parents must give permission for their children to take the classes, and boys and girls are separated.
A study released in September 2011 showed births to teen or preteen mothers cost Mississippi $154.9 million in 2009.
That included increased costs of foster care, social services and incarceration for young people born years ago to teen moms. It also took into account lost revenue from people who have lower levels of education and lower-paying jobs because they became parents when they were younger than 20.
The study was done by a nonprofit, nonpartisan group called the Mississippi Economic Policy Center and was sponsored by the Women’s Fund of Mississippi. It was also supported by Mississippi First, an advocacy group for health and education issues.
Mississippi First and the Women’s Fund advocate an evidence-based sex education curriculum that includes information about contraception, disease prevention and responsibility that they say can help reduce the rates of teen and preteen pregnancies.