Here’s one statistic you won’t hear anyone bragging about: Texas has the highest rate of repeat teen pregnancies in the country.
Contemplate that for a minute. According to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more young women in Texas become parents for a second or third time in their teenage years than any other state in the nation. Those pregnancies take a physical, financial and psychological toll on the teenagers, and they also come with a high economic cost for Texas taxpayers.
Teen pregnancies cost the state $1.1 billion annually, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. That’s an astounding and completely preventable price tag.
Teen childbearing costs the state of Texas through lost wages and an increased reliance on social services. According to Texas Health and Human Services data, 86 percent of births to adolescents are paid for by Texas Medicaid. But the economics are just one component. For children born to teenagers, these costs also arise from serious social problems ranging from poverty to child abuse and neglect, and health concerns such as premature and low birth weight deliveries.
It should be no surprise that teenagers have sex. Nearly half of all Texas high school students report having sex, according to the CDC, and the fact that we have the nation’s fifth-highest rate of teen pregnancies confirms that all too often it isn’t protected sex.
It is important to note that teen pregnancy does not discriminate. Though it differs substantially by racial and ethnic group, Texas teen pregnancy rates are higher than the national average among all backgrounds. This impacts every corner of our state and every Texan should be alarmed by these data points.
While there is plenty to debate about the root causes of these statistics and the merits of the solutions, there is a straightforward, simple and budget-neutral solution to address the challenge of repeat teen pregnancies.
Teen parents have medical authority over their children, but they don’t have the ability to make decisions about their own healthcare. That means they can’t get birth control without their parents’ approval, even though they are already parents themselves. This policy defies common sense and creates an unnecessary barrier for them to prevent repeat pregnancies.
A bill introduced by Rep. Sarah Davis (R-Houston) in the Texas Legislature would change policy to give teen parents the freedom to choose an effective contraceptive method, such as long-acting reversible contraception, without requiring parental consent.
It is difficult enough to be a teen parent and navigate the financial and emotional challenges of parenting so young; adding yet another child only aggravates the situation for both parent and child. A simple, no-cost policy change can help.