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Let’s All Wrap Our Brains Around Maternity Leave For Pregnant Teens

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Sometimes I read some news that makes me want to cover my ears and say “la la la – I can’t hear you!” Then I realize this isn’t a very effective response to dealing with the depressing realities of the world.

The American Civil Liberties Union is pushing for maternity leave for pregnant teens in New Mexico. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state has one of the highest birth rates for teenagers between the ages 15 to 19 in the country. The national average was 34.2 births per 1,000 teenage girls in 2010. New Mexico had a teen birth rate of 53 per 1,000 teenage girls.

Maternity leave for teenagers? Is this really an effective way to deal with teen pregnancy? Whenever I’m in a moral quandary like this one, I have an effective strategy for figuring out what my stance should be. I research what the religious right thinks about it – and take the opposite side. SF Gate reports that Concerned Women for America, a Christian conservative women’s group, thinks that extended teen maternity leave rewards teens who get pregnant and promotes sex among teenagers. Yes, I am sure the reason that all of these teens are getting pregnant is in the hopes that one day teen maternal leave will be legislated, and they will get 10 extra days off from school. That makes total sense.

Statistics show that the problem in states like New Mexico is very poor sex education. From The Raw Story:

The two states with the highest rates of teen pregnancies are Mississippi and New Mexico.  Neither state requires that sex ed be taught in schools.  Mississippi law stipulates that when sexual education is taught, that abstinence be the main method of contraception proscribed by educators, whereas New Mexico has no rules about reproductive health criteria at all.

The state with the lowest rate of teen pregnancies is New Hampshire, which requires comprehensive sex ed in schools that includes information about condoms and other forms of birth control in addition to abstinence.

I support what the ACLU is doing, because I don’t think there is any reason to add the double whammy of dropping out of school to the already difficult situation of teen pregnancy. A teenager who is going through childbirth will need extra sick days to recover and bond with her baby. But I do believe effort would be better directed getting states like New Mexico to understand the importance of sex education in schools – and pushing to legislate that. The state does not require sex ed to be taught in schools – a fact that is producing devastating results. Sex education equals less teen pregnancy. States like New Hampshire prove that.

Legislating maternal leave for teens is great, but if feels a little like buying larger clothes to deal with obesity. It may make the outcome more livable, but it doesn’t deal with the root of the problem.

(photo: Jesse Kunerth/ Shutterstock.com)