March 16, 2009
Texas needs a new approach to women’s health issues. Whether it’s trying to keep women healthy or keep teenagers from getting pregnant, the state needs to ask a couple of basic questions:
Does what we’re doing work? And if it doesn’t, what does?
One program that isn’t working is the state’s approach to sex education. Texas has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the country.
One program that does work is the state’s Women’s Health Program, which provides low-income women access to contraception, cervical and breast cancer screenings, and other basic health services. In just one year, the program saved taxpayers more than $78 million. Unfortunately, less than 25 percent of eligible women have enrolled in the program.
That’s why we filed the Prevention Works Act. Our bill, filed as Senate Bill 1100 and House Bill 1694, would make preventing unwanted pregnancies an economic and policy priority in Texas by increasing participation in the Women’s Health Program and engaging parents in their schools’ sex education instruction.
The case for expanding the Women’s Health Program is as compelling as any in government. For every $1 the state invests in the program, the federal government matches it with $9.
Equally compelling are the savings that the program offers Texas taxpayers. The cost of providing one woman the preventative services offered in the Women’s Health Program is about $180 per year. The cost of every Medicaid birth is more than $9,800 — it’s literally 50 times less expensive to prevent unplanned pregnancies than to pay for them.
Just as importantly, providing affordable contraception to low-income women reduces the number of abortions in Texas — an outcome that should be applauded by both sides in the debate over women’s reproductive rights.
Finally, the program’s preventative approach keeps people healthy and keeps minor maladies from cascading into serious, expensive diseases. Now more than ever, Texas has to get all it can out of this important program.
The Prevention Works Act would also ensure that parents play a role in their kids’ sex education classes, requiring school districts to inform parents about the content of their sex education curriculum.
Texas already requires school districts to notify parents that sex education classes are taking place, and that parents have the right to remove their children from those classes. But parents are not being told just what those classes teach. Based on the school’s curriculum, parents may instead wish to discuss these issues at home with their child.
Parents know the state’s approach to sex education doesn’t work. Beyond the state’s unacceptably high teen-pregnancy rate, polls show that 90 percent of Texas parents favor teaching students age-appropriate, medically accurate sex education.
Our Prevention Works Act respects current law and says abstinence is the “preferred choice of behavior” for young people. But when districts do teach contraception, the bill would ensure that they teach with medically accurate information — which studies show has been missing from many classrooms.
With this approach, Prevention Works removes politics, rhetoric and shame from what should be a bipartisan effort to protect and support women, parents and children. It actually reduces unplanned pregnancies, particularly among teenagers. It allows families to discuss this life-changing issue together. And it helps teenagers confront adulthood far better equipped to face the dilemmas it presents.
Most of all, it’s a common-sense, middle-ground and cost-effective approach to a goal we all should share — reducing abortions. The surest way to prevent the termination of an unwanted pregnancy is to prevent the pregnancy. The Prevention Works Act provides a new approach — one built on communication, education and prevention — to keep these difficult, complicated and often tragic situations from occurring in the first place.