It wouldn’t be December without a plethora of Year in Review posts! For us in the sexual health and pregnancy prevention world, 2013 has been a year with many victories and even more changes. With fewer young people getting pregnant now than ever before, it would be easy to simply call the year another victory. However, we think this year will be remembered as something different: The Year of the Shake-up. Check out our 2013 highlights and lowlights to see what we mean.
Teen pregnancy hits record lows! When we released the 2012 teen pregnancy rates this fall, they showed a 62% decrease in North Carolina’s teen pregnancy rate since 1990. Back then, more than 10% of the state’s teen girls got pregnant in a single year. Now, it’s under 4%.
The elimination of the pregnancy gap between White and African American teens in Gaston County. Teen pregnancy rates have improved for all racial/ethnic groups both statewide and in Gaston County. However, the Gaston County data illustrates that widespread participation in evidence-based programs, clinical services, and community engagement can close a longstanding historical disparity.
The North Carolina General Assembly reinvests in prevention programs. Despite record cuts to health services, the NCGA continued to allocate federal dollars to the state's Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiatives. These successful, evidence-based programs provide pregnancy prevention and teen parent support programs in some of North Carolina's highest-risk communities.
The ACA’s contraceptive benefit takes effect. Teens pregnancy has declined primarily because more sexually active teens use contraceptives and because use of foolproof methods like IUDs and the Implant is increasing. Teens whose families pay for private insurance now have access to the most effective methods without traditional cost barriers. And, new research shows the regulations are indeed increasing access.
EC goes OTC. Through a combination of lawsuits and FDA decisions, Plan B One-Step was made available over the counter without the traditional arbitrary age limits. The change has been a mixed bag. Not every store carries it (ahem, Target) or stocks it according to the law (we’re looking at you, Kerr Drug). However, the change created a great current event to help educate teens about birth control and their rights.
The Shutdown and the Sequester. For nearly a month, successful, important teen pregnancy prevention programs stopped because of the federal government shutdown. Across the board, leading prevention organizations (including ours) have seen their budgets drop because of the sequester. Dear Members of Congress: There is one mighty eye roll waiting for you the next time you suggest teens lack the ability needed to act responsibly.
Legislators attacks minor's medical rights. Parents and the major medical societies agree that young people need the ability to access private medical care. In 2013, the North Carolina General Assembly tried to undo a 40-year-old law that protects doctor-patient confidentiality and would even require parents to get a notarized signature for each month’s birth control refill. Luckily, this bill died.
North Carolina adds abortion to sex ed. Parent's widely favor medically accurate sex ed that covers both abstinence and birth control (what North Carolina currently provides). However, a new law now requires schools to teach questionable information about abortion during sex ed - a move that could undermine parent confidence and teacher comfort. (We should mention that teen abortions are rare and dropped to an all-time low when pregnancies did.)
Faux controversies over contraception. 99% of sexually active women have used contraception, parents widely favor their children having access to and learning about it, and it’s been the leading reason teen pregnancy has declined. However, uneasiness about sex and modernity have made it an easy target. Even companies that traditionally provided health insurance that covered birth control are suing to revoke that coverage. This lowlight will last well into 2014.
So why is this the Year of the Shake-Up? All of our successes - including that 62% decline in teen pregnancy - happened under a different paradigm. But we don't know what the future will look like. New rules to increase contraceptive access should help prime us for more success. On the other hand, 2013's lowlights could easily become lurking factors that undermine our progress. Birth control access could shrink. Funding cuts could eliminate programs. Helpful policies could change.
We don't know what things will look like in five or 10 years - although we are optimistic - but we think 2013 will leave a visible mark. As we approach the New Year, we are thankful for all your help, hard work, and support. We wouldn’t see this level of success without you at our side. And we’re counting on you in 2014.