The well-coiffured anchorman was just finishing the second installment of his special report on teen pregnancy, this one on the controversy surrounding the distribution of contraceptives at Chicago’s DuSable High School. In typical television fashion, he whet viewer appetites by dramatically building our interest in his third and final report.

“And tomorrow [in serious news-voice tone], we’ll talk to some people who are offering an alternative to school-based clinics [pause to build curiosity], an alternative that just might be catching on.”

Our curiosity is piqued. What, pray tell, could this latest “answer” be?

The anchorman [smiling]: “Abstinence.”

Moral Schizophrenia

Twenty years after the advent of the so-called new morality, a basic tenet of the old is coming back into vogue. And little wonder. The “blessings” of sexual freedom have not only compounded societal sorrows with a litany of sexually transmitted diseases (STDS), but they have altered society’s very ability to deal effectively with the moral questions at the root of its sexual crisis. How can one address the specter of AIDS, or the junior-high girl experiencing her second pregnancy, when morality is individualistic, nonbinding to anyone but the person or persons being affected?

Obviously, one cannot.

But society seems intent upon ignoring the obvious. Rather than questioning an individual’s ethic (and thereby jeopardizing the person’s moral freedom or “rights”), we question the consequences of the individual ethic held. Yet the “consequences” of teenage pregnancy pose but another critical socio-moral issue facing and frustrating this societal mindset. This year alone, over one million teenagers will become pregnant, drop out of school, and the majority “make do” on welfare

As for their babies, 40 percent will be aborted, with the rest facing possible mental, physical, and developmental problems due to the fact that few teens (less than one-third of all pregnant girls under age 15) receive the critical prenatal care needed in the first three months of pregnancy. According to a bellwether Time article on the subject a year ago, the combinations of inadequate medical care, habits such as smoking and drinking, and poor diet contribute to a 92 percent greater likelihood of anemia and a 23 percent greater likelihood of complications related to prematurity for pregnant teens than for mothers aged 20 to 24. Thus, teens run twice the risk of delivering a low birth-weight baby (under 5.5 pounds).

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How do we deal with this adolescent nightmare? The most controversial “solution” has been the school-based clinic. Already 72 clinics exist in such cities as Chicago, St. Paul, Baltimore, Phoenix, and Dallas, with nearly 100 more being planned, according to U.S. News & World Report. Supported by two-thirds of all Americans, the clinics offer alcohol and drug-abuse counseling, sports physicals and immunizations, as well as contraceptive services.

Are they effectively treating the symptom? Statistics are inconclusive. Where “preclinic pregnancy” rates are known, advocates point to drops in conception—microscopic though they are. What cannot be measured, however, is the impact these clinics are having on the collective teen psyche. In other words, does issuing contraceptives say anything important or meaningful to them about human relationships and sexuality?

To society’s way of thinking, this deeper consequence is of secondary concern; after all, we are treating symptoms. Not surprisingly, then, a recent 337-page report by the National Research Council encouraging the federal government to take the lead in establishing school-based clinics nationwide, says: “… the primary goal of policy makers, professionals,” parents and teenagers themselves should be the reduction in the rate and incidence of unintended pregnancies among adolescents, especially school-age teenagers.” But, warns columnist William Raspberry: “Can it be that the widespread availability of family-planning services may be signaling other teenagers that sex—and even pregnancy—is no big deal?”

An Idea Whose Time Has Come—Again

Enter abstinence. While it smacks of moral imposition to some secularists (and therefore something to be avoided), there are a surprising number who feel that, even apart from any explicit moral reasoning, saying no is an act of genuine—and individual—responsibility. It is something worth doing for oneself.

And in that self-centered context, the idea is catching on:

• In a recent episode of television’s “Facts of Life,” the college-age character played by black actress Kim Fields spends most of the program debating whether or not to give up her virginity. In the end, she decides against sex.

  • Jermaine Stewart’s top ten recording, “We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off,” is allegedly a commentary against irresponsible sex. Stewart told Jet magazine that “there are so many diseases floating around these days, you don’t know what you’re going to catch.”
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  • And a television announcement of the Washington, D.C. based Children’s Defense Fund depicts the bare stomach of a pregnant girl with the words: “If you thought a pimple is hard to explain, think of explaining this.”

In addition, “Say No” programs geared for public school audiences are also being developed. Prochastity spokeswoman Coleen Mast has received a federal grant of $300,000 to develop and test her “Sex Respect” program in 15 public schools (see CT, Dec. 12, 1986, p. 45). According to Mast, public school educators can now “choose a program that says ‘wait until marriage.’ ”

Even if the moral veneer of this effort has been thinned to pass secular muster, it nevertheless signals a strategic opportunity for the church in an area where its efforts have, at times, been combative and tentative. Sexual maturity requires the development of some basic qualities that impact not only today’s behavior and experiences, but tomorrow’s as well. Writing from his Christian perspective, speaker/author Josh McDowell says: “A commitment to Christ to faithfully obey his word in this area will mean the exercise of self-control, discipline, and patience. These very same qualities are necessary to form a lasting intimate relationship with another.”

Rather than decry the schizophrenic solutions of society’s sexual ethics and again risk being caricatured as opposed to sex, Christians can support “Say No” sex education in our children’s schools. At the same time, we must clearly establish its moral/spiritual foundation in the church and, of course, the home. Here, indeed, may be an opportunity for public schools and the Christian community to complement each other.

By Harold Smith.

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