This week we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. While the strides we’ve made since his days of activism and his untimely death are inspirational – and in so many cases, truly amazing – we’re disheartened by the inequalities we see in our day-to-day work to reduce North Carolina’s teen pregnancy rate. These inequalities are pretty apparent:
For every 1,000 15-19 year old teen girls in North Carolina, the rates – by race/ethnicity – are:
White girls: 45.4
African American girls: 74.5
Latina girls: 118.0
The reasons for these disparities are complex, and they are nuanced. Our healthcare systems, educational and community resources, poverty levels, differences in opportunity, and public policy are knitted together in a pattern that provides a strong support for some of our youth but allows others to fall. Those differences don’t speak well of our committment to shared values of prosperity and fairness.
In 2009, North Carolina made a strong step toward greater equality of opportunity with the passage of the Healthy Youth Act. The Healthy Youth Act (HYA) is the state’s new sexuality education law. For the first time, it requires schools to provide information on STDs, pregnancy, and relationships that is both medically accurate and based upon peer reviewed research.
So, while inequalities remain in many of the factors that contribute to adolescent pregnancy – access to preventative care, loving and engaged parents, a sense of future, etc. – we can be proud that North Carolina youth now have the public policy framework for receiving factual, important, life-saving information.