The British government's teenage pregnancy strategy aimed to cut the conception rate among under-18s by 15% between 1998 and 2004, and to halve that rate by 2010. It has spent more than £250 million yet has only achieved an 11.5% reduction. The most significant reduction in the rate from its
The human cost of this policy is incalculable. While the conception rate in 1998 for
The social causes of teenage pregnancy
Professor David Paton of Nottingham University (pictured) found that teenagers in poor areas were more likely to visit birth control clinics, yet those areas had higher teen pregnancy rates. Teenagers in better-off parts of
Although politicians want to throw yet more birth control at this problem, they do also acknowledge the social factors. Ms Beverley Hughes MP, the children's minister, speaks of "tailored support for all teenage parents to reduce future teenage pregnancies." A ministry statement says that such support: "… would also tackle the underlying causes of early pregnancy such as low aspirations, disengagement from learning, poor educational attainment and poor emotional health." [Department for Children, Schools and Families, 29 January]
Mr Chris Bryant, Labour MP for
Mr Bryant's report, based on extensive interviews with teenage mothers, said that in 2005 there were 39,804 conceptions among under-18s in
The relationship between household-type and poverty
Social disadvantage is directly associated with family breakdown. Children raised by two married parents do better financially, academically and socially. Children raised outside a stable family structure find it harder to form stable, committed families for their own children.
National government surveys in the
Therefore, the biggest single contribution government could make to reducing social deprivation, child poverty and, consequently, teenage pregnancy, would be to ensure that children were raised by both biological parents in a married relationship.
Undermining parental rights
The teenage pregnancy strategy actually undermines families by removing the parents' rights to decide the nature of the sex-education their children receive and when they should receive it. A Council of Europe document states: "In exercise of any functions which it assures in relation to education and to teaching, the State shall respect the right of parents to ensure such education and teaching in conformity with their own religious and philosophical convictions." [article 2, Protocol to the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, as amended by protocol 11, Paris, 20 March 1952.]
Ms Beverley Hughes recently said to parliament: "What that strategy has been designed to do is, first, encourage parental engagement." [Westminster Hall Hansard, 29 January] However, in the field of sex-education, Ms Hughes's government has removed parents' rights. It is now threatening to target children in primary schools, and to make sex-education mandatory. Government policy has also assailed parental authority by secretly supplying birth control and abortion to underage children.
Moral hazard and contraceptive failure
People are more likely to avoid risks when there is no safety-net. Teenagers engage in risky sexual behaviour if they think they can get birth control without their parents finding out, and a secret abortion if contraception fails. Insurance companies call this moral hazard. [Professor David Paton, Faith, July-August 2007]
Contraception is much more likely to fail than people generally believe. A report published on the 29th of last month by Marie Stopes International in
Health risks of hormonal birth control
The evidence shows use of birth control (especially by those under 20) is associated with significant risks. The teenage pregnancy strategy could actually be contributing to the human and economic costs of sexual ill-health. Hormonal birth control such as the pill is associated with cancer. Despite news stories suggesting the pill can reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, there is a well-established link to an increased risk of cancer of the breast, cervix and liver. These effects are even more dangerous when exposure to pill is begun before physical maturity, and goes on for many years.
The connection between cervical cancer and the pill, has been under investigation since 1964. Since then studies have confirmed a heightened risk, particularly to teenager users. In 1988, research on 47,000 women published in The Lancet showed the connection between use of the pill and genital cancers.
This probably presents a greater risk to pill-users than cervical cancer. Research in the
Further studies have concurred with this and the Netherlands Cancer Institute reported the particular danger of use before the age of 20. In 1996 research conducted by Malcolm Pike showed a 50% increase of breast cancer in women who started on the pill before the age of 20. The results of tamoxifen, the anti-oestrogen drug, in the prevention of breast cancer confirms the role of oestrogen (and therefore the combined pill and morning-after pills) in the development of cancer. Bringing a pregnancy to full term safeguards against breast cancer.
The risk of death from clots can begin within one month of starting on the pill. In 1968 hospital admissions for blood clots were shown to be nine times greater in women who used the pill than those who did not.
Despite the development of the low-dose pill, this risk remains four times greater in users of the pill. Women with hereditary high cholesterol are advised not to use the pill. Users with a hereditary defect of the clotting factor in their blood face a 30-fold increased risk of developing clots compared to normal non-users.
These are rare and, although not usually malignant, such tumours can cause death if they rupture.
Minor side effects
These include depression, raised blood pressure (with an increased risk of stroke even in girls as young as 14), and conditions such as eczema and chloasma.
Sexually transmitted diseases
While the discussion of teenage sexual health has focused on teenage pregnancy, the rise in the rates of sexually transmitted diseases has been alarming. There are serious implications for the future fertility of children and teenagers who contract such diseases.
The teenage pregnancy strategy is not working. While the conception rate has fallen slightly, the number of recorded abortions continues to rise, without even including early abortion caused by birth control drugs and devices. (The manufacturer's description of the Norgeston mini-pill concedes that it can stop young embryos from implanting in the womb (nidation).)
The government stubbornly insists that what is needed is even more birth control, yet this has been shown not to be a factor in teenage pregnancy. The government pays lip-service to the social factors which do lead to teenage pregnancy yet undermines the traditional family which is more likely to give children an emotionally stable and materially adequate upbringing. In all this, we are scarcely told about how birth control can fail and can threaten women's health.
For further information on anything mentioned here, or on what you can do in your area to counter the government's failed teenage pregnancy strategy, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org