Contraceptives at teen centers restricted

Last week, the state Department of Human Resources board decided it would be best if teen centers — which have a goal to reduce teenage pregnancy — faced further restrictions on, of all things, handing out contraceptives.

Sounds counterintuitive, doesn't it. But not to the state agency that oversees the centers.

After a yearlong debate over whether to continue giving federal funding to the centers, the DHR board decided to allow funding to continue — but with additional rules that could undermine the authority of the centers and promote the beliefs of the board, whose members are appointed by Gov. Sonny Perdue and whose chairman, Bruce Cook, owns a company that sells abstinence curriculum materials to schools and health centers.

Under the new rules, 50 percent of counseling time must be spent stressing abstinence, and contraceptives can only be distributed in clinical settings — a standard that is inherently vague.

"It would be wonderful if children would be virgins until marriage, but the reality is they aren't," says Sharon Collins, a resident of Mechanicsville who says her children have received condoms from the Dunbar Teen Center. "If the government doesn't want tax money to pay for prevention, then they'll be paying for AIDS patients instead."

Board member Monica Walters told the AJC last week that spending tax dollars on contraceptives sends a mixed message to teens. Walters did not respond to a request for an interview. Earlier this year, Cook told CL that the agency intended to cut prevention programs that didn't show "measurable results."

Yet some studies, including one by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on sexual and reproductive health research, have shown that abstinence-only programs aren't the best preventatives of teen pregnancy. The Guttmacher study found that when teenage pregnancy rates dropped from 1988 to 1999, contraceptive use was three times more effective than abstinence programs in impacting that change.

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