Chastity Vs. Condoms Mires Clinton Anti-Teen Mom War

Bill Alexander
January 1, 1997

Stimulated by $l million-plus in foundation grants, President Clinton's new National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy is gradually rumbling off square one — amid doubts that it will have any more impact on the nagging unwed teen motherhood issue than similar crusades over the past 20 years.

The big hang-up; an emerging ideological stand-off between conservatives espousing an "abstinence-only" approach for teens and those who endorse the availability of contraceptives for youth who become sexually active.

William Mattox, the conservative Family Research Council's vice president for policy, and a member of a campaign task force, has drawn the battle line on its professed "big tent" approach, asserting: “It will allow groups to offer abortion counseling while giving lip service to — and co-opting — the abstinence-only approach. There cannot be a resolution on these issues. No one is under the illusion that Planned Parenthood will suddenly see the light.

Taking the opposite view. Leslie Kantor, vice president of education for Planned Parenthood of New York City, and another campaign task force member, said: "We are used to the didactic approach and silly slogans from the right. It is hypocrisy for them not to adjust their programs to skill-building and the 85 percent of the population who engage in premarital sex. Evaluations have legitimized that abstinence - only programs bring about no behavioral changes, whatsoever. We need a variety of approaches."

Campaign President Isabel Sawhill characterizes me dichotomy as reflective of the "tremendous tensions over the issue in the world at large." But she offers no hint of when or how the conflict will be resolved in the Campaign s effort to raise a "big tent" that will embrace all elements of society — and still function with a unified approach.

Instead, Sawhill has concentrated on the nuts and bolts of launching the Campaign's caravan. So far she has:

-Created four task forces involving a hodgepodge of some 60 community leaders, on-the-ground practitioners, celebrities, theologians, nonprofit CEOs and representatives, corporate officers, think-tank theorists and academics.

-Dispatched campaign officers, including herself, and task force members on site visits to six states.

-Formed a bipartisan advisory panel made up of 24 members of the U.S. House of Representatives, and co-chaired by Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Mike Castle (R-Del.) "to encourage public discussion," Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) have agreed to co-chair and recruit a similar panel in their chamber.

-Elected four new members to the now 21-member Campaign board, with former Governor Thomas Kean (R-N.J.) as presiding chairman, in late November: Ramon C. Cortines, special advisor to Secretary of Education Richard Riley; Sister Mary Rose McGeady, president and CEO of Covenant House; Victoria P. Sant, president of the Summit Foundation: and Isabel C. Stewart, national executive director of Girls Inc.

-Scheduled a February roundtable discussion (in partnership with the Family Impact Seminar) that will focus on male involvement in teen pregnancy prevention.

-Promised a spring publicity blitz to inform the general public about the campaign's goal to reduce the teen pregnancy rate by one-third by the year 2005 to highlight President Clinton's designation of May as Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month.

Presidential Push

Life began for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (NCFTP) after President Clinton, in his 1995 State of the Union address, declared teen pregnancy to be "our most serious social problem." He called for creation of a group that could work with all sectors of society to end teen pregnancy: "I have sent to Congress a plan that targets schools all over this country with anti pregnancy programs that work. But government can only do so much. Tonight I call on parents and leaders all across this country to join together in a national campaign against teen pregnancy...."

Shortly after Clinton's words were uttered nationwide, then-Deputy Domestic Policy Advisor Toliam Galston approached Jody Greenstone Miller, a David Gergen aide who was leaving the White House, and asked whether she would be willing to "catalyze" the private sector initiative. Her months-long effort "on my own nickel" resulted in Miller tapping Sawhill, then an Urban Institute senior fellow, as her main advisor.

In October 1995. a meeting at the White House, hosted by the president, launched the high-profile national campaign and an equally high-profile board boasting the likes of former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop, Child Trends, Inc.'s Executive Director Kristin Moore. Urban League President Hugh Price, and actress (and former Girls Inc. youth worker) Whoopi Goldberg. The Campaign may not be touted as a White House initiative, but its origins, molding, setting of agenda, picking of key personnel and continuing support in every area by the Clinton administration make it walk and talk like a duck. But the White House connection is downplayed.

What White House?

"We don't dictate their activities," Lynn Hogan, a senior policy analyst on the White House domestic policy staff says of the campaign, "but we stay in touch." Hogan says President Clinton "continues to focus" on teen pregnancy prevention programs as a "priority," tie will continue to "use his bully pulpit" to speak out for "a variety of pro-grams... from abstinence to family planning" that have proven to be effective.

And, she says, teen pregnancy prevention programs are budgeted for "the same — or more — as last year." The Department of Health and Human Services will earmark some "$12 to $13 million" for these programs. "A more detailed plan of our efforts will be released early in the year."

And, pray tell, is Dr. Henry W. Foster. Jr., whose 1995 nomination as surgeon general was jettisoned by the Senate, still on board? "Oh, yes!" says Hogan, referring to the controversial senior advisor to the president for teen pregnancy and youth issues. Foster, who has said more than once that abstinence-only programs are laudable but impractical by themselves, long ago became a lightning rod for pro-lifers who have attacked him for his views on contraception and his personal participation — as a licensed medical doctor — in several abortion procedures. (As directed, Youth Today faxed a number of questions to Dr. Foster's office weeks before press time, but they went unanswered.)

When Sawhill was asked whether she had to field questions from Campaign participants about Dr. Foster's views, she shot back: "We are a private agency." After a pause to allow this to sink in, she says. "I bump into him occasionally at airports...and at big meetings." So much for Foster, once hailed by the president as the nations leading expert on teen pregnancy, as he continues his ongoing transformation into the Man Who Never Was.

Touchy Issue

"We are not a part of the Urban Institute," booms Sawhill — seemly out of nowhere — to an unasked question. Such touchiness derives, it seems, from constant references by the media to her organization as being a "spin off” of the Institute.

Now buried deep in the bowels of the Institute’s headquarters in downtown Washington, D.C. the Campaign subleases space without even a sign to call its own. "The Institute allowed us to do our planning grants here...but we are an independent organization," says Sawhill.

More importantly, when the $80,000 in planning grants from the Carnegie. Turner, and Smith Richardson foundations ran out, the Institute "housed us until we received our 501-c status," says Campaign board member Barbara Huberman, director of training for Advocates for Youth and chair of NCPTP's state and local action task force. Since then, the campaign has received $500,000 from the Carnegie Corp. and $499,910 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Huberman's organization, as well, received a $40,000 grant from the Packard Foundation to support the teen pregnancy prevention initiative.

"Other funding has come in anonymously from a variety of sources," Says tight lipped Campaign Director Sarah Brown, a former senior study director at the Institute of Medicine who declined to amplify on the organization's apparently ample finances. Since starting off as "a staff of one" back in the spring of last year, Sawhill's helpers have multi-plied by 10. She pinpoints February 1996 as the official start-up date other organization — a watershed year in the area of teen pregnancy because of the long-term impact of two other developments.

First, the National Center for Health Statistics reported that the teenage birth rate had fallen 8 percent since 1991. Concurrently, however, statistics on out-of- wedlock teen births continued their over two-decades long upward surge
culminating in 1994's record-setting 518,389 births or 76 percent of all teen births. The 1995 statistics are not yet available.

This [high teen pregnancy rate] has been a problem since 1957," Says Kantor," we've not made a huge dent in the numbers because there has been a contest among adults (teen program leaders and organizations) over my way is better than your way.' We need to slop arguing, and get on with it."

The second development was the president's signing of the Republican’s Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 (the welfare reform bill), which declared that between 1985 and 1990 the “public cost in teen births under AFDC, Food Stamps and Medicaid” was estimated at $120 billion. It targeted teen pregnancy with specific provisions that include:

-Restrictions on benefits to unwed teenage parents under 18 who do not live at home and attend school;

-Bonuses to the five states that rank highest in decreasing out-of-wedlock births while decreasing abortions; and

-Creation of a $50-million abstinence-only education program.

The bill abolished the 20-year-old mandate that states must make family planning services available to welfare recipients. It allows states to spend a portion of their block grant money on "pre-pregnancy family planning services," but not on abortion.

Moving too Fast?

Patrick Fagin, a policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation and a self-proclaimed believer in “old-fashioned words like virtue” feels the National Campaign is moving too fast. “The timing is out of kilter,” he says. As a member of the religion and public values task force and aware of the upcoming publicity campaign, he frets about the “message” to be conveyed. Adds Fagin:

“The values group’s key function is to come up with a values message that should infuse the whole campaign and the other task forces. But we've only had one meeting and have yet to do the critical values work. How can you draft public service announcements without a values message?"

Sawhill disputes Fagin's contention, saying he "misreads" his role. "No one task force chooses a message...it is the joint product of the various task forces, We want everyone on board, but we don't want to be paralyzed into inaction because everyone hasn't seen to agree on every detail." Which describes her problem but doesn't resolve it. Although Sawhill speaks of the Campaign as "inclusive," Dr. Renee Jenkins, professor and chair of Howard University's Department of Pediatrics and Child Health, expresses dismay that the Campaign, in her view, is "talking to the same people," Jenkins, another member of the Campaign's state and local action task force, says the organization is not taking the time to make itself known to people in the service provider area.

"The scope is limited...a larger ring of people need to be included, like parents of at-risk teens). The group is sending too broad a message... it is spinning its wheels by being politically neutral when kids need help now."

"You never can please everybody," Theodora Ooms says good-naturedly. Ooms, a fellow member on the same task force as Jenkins, is the executive director of the low-keyed Family Impact Seminar. She says the Campaign is "taking criticism for being inclusive of all viewpoints, but it's a strategically sound commitment. We've made a lot of progress in a short time."

Where's Common Ground?

Sawhill repeatedly uses the phrase "common ground." There is, she says, "a lot of room for common ground — more than has been acknowledged or recognized. Except for extremists, "all reasonable elements in a community
should be listened to on this issue." Asked for an example of extremism, Sarah Brown zeroes in on "any sex education program that teaches that unwed teen mothers will be struck dead by lightning...that promotes guilt, shame and fear." She then cited "a program in Idaho I've heard about." [See Box]

"The Campaign is a big tent and this is a great strength," contends Douglas Kirby, director of research for ETR Associates in Scotts Valley, Calif., a purveyor of educational materials to combat teen pregnancy and a member of the effective programs and research task force.

"I've seen several national efforts like this before. But the big difference here is how they are carefully looking at what research tells them about what does and does not work," he says.

Kirby is well-known for what many consider his definitive review of what works in teen pregnancy prevention programs, School-based Programs to Reduce Sexual Risk Behaviors; A Review of Effectiveness in 1994.

The Family Research Council's Mattox hopes that the differing groups will make abstinence-only the "common ground" and promote it to the exclusion of all other approaches. "We can then fight over our differences on a different field," he says.

However, yet another Campaign task force member. Donna Butts, who has been making teen pregnancy prevention campaign site visits of her own as executive director of the National Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Parenting and Prevention, cited a recent study done by the University of Nebraska's Brian Wilcox, who is the director of the Center on Children, Families, and the Law. The study, says Butts, seriously questions the effectiveness of abstinence-only programs once girls become old enough to conceive.

Brown and Sawhill are assisted in their site-visit work by campaign consultant Phyllis Wolfe, who formerly worked on the staff of the Children's Defense Fund. The visits included two days in Salem and Tillamook, Ore., where Sawhill met with Gov. John Kitzhaber (D) and various community groups and leaders.

Brown, in a trip to New York City, stopped in at Inwood House, managed by its director, Anstiss Agnew. in the Bronx. A multi-service center serving at-risk youth, it recently started a program which connects young fathers, serving as mentors, to even younger boys who are not yet fathers. "It's a bigger picture," says another task force, member, Sharon Rodine, a coordinator for the Oklahoma Child Advocacy Institute. "We need to expand our pool of leaders. So much needs to be done... and the kids deserve it. We keep saying, wrongly, that the kids are our future. No, we are their future."

"We have a bigger nut to crack than whose method or program is - better... we have to start changing societally," says Planned Parenthood's Leslie Kantor as if eavesdropping on Dash.

Kantor's "hope" is that every Campaign task force "will bring teens in as advisors." She says her task force is now in the early stages of developing a model training program and targeting leaders.

"Right now," says Donna Butts, "the Campaign is- organizing, gathering, evaluating, and formulating. "

Resources:

National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

2100 M St. NW. Ste. 500

Washington, D.C.

(202) 857-8631

When Children Want Children Leon Dash New York, N.Y. Penguin Permanent Series (Reissue). 1996. $11.95.

School-based Programs to Reduce Sexual Risk Behaviors: A Review of Effectiveness, Douglas Kirby et al. Public Health Reports, May-June 1994, pp 339-360.

Full Service Schools: A Revolution in Health and Social Services for Children. Youth and Families. Joy Dryfoos. San Francisco. Calif. Jossey-Bass. 1994. $27.

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Alexander, Bill. "Chastity Vs. Condoms Mires Clinton Anti-Teen Mom War." Youth Today, Jan/Feb 1997, p. 1.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.

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