Government policies in the UK aimed at reducing teenage pregnancies have failed to have any impact, according to a new study.
The study looked at the teenage pregnancy figures between 1969 and 2009. It found that despite the millions of pounds spent in government initiatives over the last four decades pregnancy rates among teenaged girls aged 13-16, have remained steady, while abortion rates have gone up.
Government policies have tended to focus on providing ever-easier access to contraception.
The study also found that policies aimed providing “emergency birth control” after sexual encounters had an even worse rate of success.
According to the data, that policy, introduced by the Labour Government in the late 1990s that saw a significant rise in the number of teens contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
The study says: “The time appears ripe for a shift in focus from policies aimed at reducing the risks associated with underage sexual activity to those which are aimed more directly at reducing the level of underage sexual activity.”
Study author David Paton, a professor of industrial economics at Nottingham University, says it is “striking” that the rate of conceptions among girls under 16s “was almost exactly the same in 2009 as 40 years previously”.
With a 40-year low of 7 per 1000 girls aged 13-16 in 1980, the rate has climbed and dropped, but overall has held steady at between 7 and 10 per 1000. Since 1969, the rate has spiked three times: in the mid 1970s, the early 1990s and again in 1996.
“Notably, the decrease in underage pregnancy that has occurred since the late 1990s stems largely from a decrease in underage births,” Dr Paton wrote in an article in this month’s edition of the journal, Education and Health.
“In contrast, the rate of underage conceptions ending in abortion (probably the best measure of unwanted pregnancy) appears to have been particularly resistant to policy interventions, with the rate in 2009 being higher than at the start of the 1999 Strategy.”
Campaigners for increased access to contraception such Brook and the Family Planning Association (FPA) criticised the conclusions, claiming that more time is needed for the policies to work.
Dr Paton, however, accused the groups of making false claims. He told website LifeSiteNews.com that while sex-education groups, and the governments that follow their advice, claim to be using a Dutch model to push for more and earlier compulsory contraception-oriented sex-education, the practice in the Netherlands is in reality far different.
“Brook and the FPA have called for earlier sex-ed with statutory content - the opposite to the Netherlands! That access to family planning or explicit sex ed has any role in explaining lower teen pregnancy rates in the Netherlands is a myth that was debunked many years ago and those claiming otherwise should really know better.”
“In principle,” he told LSN, “I am not against schools helping parents to deliver sex ed. I am, however, against schools, parents and governments being told by so-called experts that all children need to be given a particular form of sex ed at young ages if we are to cut underage pregnancy rates when the peer-reviewed evidence to support such a claim is simply not there.”
In his article, Dr Paton wrote that the assumption in government policies teaching children about “safe sex” and giving them access to “family planning” has been that such policies would “reduce pregnancy rates amongst those teenagers who were already having sex but will not cause an increase in the proportion of all teenagers who engage in sexual activity.”
But the data implies that telling teenagers how to have “safe” sex and providing them with contraception, and teenagers getting pregnant, “are irretrievably interlinked”. More and easier access to contraception, combined with the permissive message from teachers and authority figures, “reduces the effective cost of sexual activity” and encourages underage teens to engage in sexual activity.
He points to a 1985 court ruling restricting provision of contraception to under-16s without parental consent, but says that during that period, “family planning take-up amongst this group went down by over 30pc,” while the under-16 abortion rate was unchanged. In 1992 a government policy was launched to “improve access to family planning for young people”.
“In each case, we can see a significant increase in the take-up of family planning amongst under-16s, but no discernible reduction in underage abortion rates.”
In 2010, the previous government admitted that their teen pregnancy initiatives, including sex education, had largely failed.
Statistics released showed that about 40,000 British girls under 18 became pregnant in 2008, or 40 per 1000, a fall of 13.3 per cent. The figures were a disappointment to the governing Labour party who, in 1999, had pledged to halve the teen pregnancy rate by 2010.