The Dirty Little Secret about Europe’s Teen Pregnancy Rates

Have you ever wondered why some of the most permissive countries in Europe like Holland, Denmark and France have such low teen pregnancy and abortion rates?In April, I wrote a column that provoked this e-mail:

Does abstinence education really work so well? I wondered because Holland, which does not promote abstinence education, and instead teaches fully and frankly about contraception, has only 12 teenage pregnancies per 1,000 pregnancies, while the U.S. has more than 80 per 1000. … I would be pleased if you could offer me some instances where abstinence has lowered teen pregnancy rates.

These are good questions and they deserve honest answers. However, the research was much harder than I expected because of the bias that exists in the media for abortion and the anything-goes-as-long-as-it-goes-with-a-condom (“safe sex” or “comprehensive”) brand of sex education that is so common in our schools.

A recent analysis of government data published by Dr. William A. Duncan in July shows that increases in abstinence education funding coincides with decreasing teen birth rates. The birth rates for all teenagers 10-14 is the lowest in 40 years, while the birth rates for all teens ages 15-19 is the lowest in 20 years.

(Birth rates are more accurate indicators of teen sexual activity than pregnancy rates. Pregnancy rates are calculated from the birth rate and abortion rate data and there is no universal requirement to report abortions.)

This is good news! However, the “pregnancy profiteers” in this country attribute this dramatic decrease to their brand of sex education. This just isn’t so!

When “comprehensive” sex education, was first introduced in our schools, it was like pouring gasoline on a fire. Teen pregnancy rates when through the roof! The decline did not occur until abstinence education campaigns begin to take hold.

In 2003, a peer-reviewed “Analysis of the Causes of the Decline in non-marital Birth and Pregnancy Rates for Teens from 1991 to 1995” was published in Adolescent Family Health. This definitive work was ignored by the pregnancy profiteers (it didn’t help their bottom line) and the mainstream media (it didn’t conform to the current standard of political correctness). The authors emphatically state: “The factors making the greatest contribution to the decline in overall 15- to 19-year-old birth and pregnancy rates were an increase in abstinence and a decrease in the percentage of married teens.”

As for those low teen pregnancy and abortion rates in permissive European countries we have heard so much about, they are useless! It’s like comparing caterpillars to elephants.

Though pregnancy data and abortion rates are not collected and reported the same way in each European country, here’s what I discovered: The much-heralded Dutch teen pregnancy, abortion and birthrates used are for all females under 20 years of age (including elementary school children), while ours are for adolescents ages 15 to 19. If you factor in prepubescent girls, naturally you come up with a much smaller number. Also, teenage girls are routinely put on the pill.

In Holland, there is a strong emphasis on delaying sexual activity. Fetal development is taught in schools, and most Dutch educators report they do not use condom demonstrations. There is little tolerance for teenage pregnancy. Unwed mothers are not subsidized the way they are in the U.S.

Also, Europe has tighter abortion laws. Abortions are typically allowed up to 17 weeks – 22 weeks is considered an emergency. Counseling and waiting periods are standard.

One of the biggest reasons the Netherlands and other European countries have much lower abortion rates is that early abortions simply are not counted! If a young girl misses her monthly period and goes to a clinic, they don’t do a pregnancy test. They do a D&C (scrape out her uterus) and call it a “menstrual extraction.” If there is no pregnancy (no test to confirm), technically, it was not an abortion!

These data were compiled from a 2000 analysis of the European sex education model published by Focus on the Family, An “Apples to Apples Report Comparing the U.S. to Europe” by Leslee Unruh, president of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse, and interviews with Dr. John Willke, the president of the International Right to Life Federation.

In short, much of the data commonly used to compare U.S. teen pregnancy and abortion data with other countries has been put out by groups who profit from teen pregnancy. The same applies to much of the information on abstinence education.

What is needed is an honest evaluation of how pregnancy rates are reported in some of these other countries as well as the negative social stigma that is attached to teen motherhood in Europe.

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