The announcement last week that Taranaki District Health Board subcommittee has accepted the stategy to provide the morning after pill (emergency contraception) free to children as young as 12 years old, is shocking, and irresponsible. While, it has not become practice yet, the plan only has to go before the Board in February for final approval.
It is wonderful that Taranaki District Health Board wants to see a reduction in its teen pregnancy and abortion rates. We at Family Life International NZ will not rest until abortion is eradicated from our Shores. But providing the morning after pill free to women and girls is not the answer to decreasing abortion. Auckland discovered that when it pulled its free morning after pill trial due to there not being enough statistical evidence to show that it would reduce the abortion rate long term. Details of this were reported in this New Zealand Herald article in 2010.
If the Taranaki District Health Board do adopt this strategy in February next year, not only will they be unlikely to reduce their high abortion rate, there is the potential for the following unintended consequences to follow:
- Women and girls who are the targeted group for this programme are more likely to undertake risky behaviour, including one night stands, as they are aware that they will be able to obtain the morning after pill easily;
- The rate of STIs, in an area with an incredibly high STI rate already, will simply climb;
- Unforeseen health problems, especially in the young users, are likely to occur (although evidence might not be seen until later in life);
- The incidence of under-age sex will climb, as youth realise they can partake in sexual activity without seemingly having to suffer the consequences (what they won’t realise is that pregnancy is only one negative consequence of sexual intercourse outside of a loving, stable, married union).
The situation Taranaki District Health Board find themselves in is one where for too many years, the standards have been set too low. Parents, teachers, community leaders and health practitioners (just to name a few) have chosen to take the attitude that “young people are going to do ‘it’ anyway, so we need to provide them with information and contraception.” This attitude is the prevailing reason why New Zealand has such a high incidence of teen pregnancy and sexual experimentation in our teens.
We need to raise the bar.
Decades of sex education (otherwise known as sexuality education) have done nothing to lower our teenage birth rates. Those who support sex education, keep encouarging teachers to introduce it earlier and earlier (even to our innocent pre-schoolers). The only outcome of this high exposure to sexual information is a very sexually active teenage population, which brings with it all the undesired consequences which the sex education was initially supposed to eradicate.
Instead of the prevailing attitude, where we give explicit sexual education and then provide the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff when the outcomes of that education fail, let’s tell our youth that sex is something special. Because sexual relations are special, intended for two people that love each other (in a committed married union), where the couple can together bring up the children who are the natural and expected outcome of a marriage. In this situation STIs are non-existent (because if you only ever have one sexual partner for life there is no chance of contracting these infections), and abortion is rare.
Those of you who have the power to act in our schools, health system and community, stop lowering the bar every time new statistics are out or news of teenage pregnancies and STIs hit the headlines. Adopt a high standard of expectation for our teens, always with great love and true compassion, and then we will see a dramatic change in teenage sexual behaviour and its consequences.
New Zealand needs to make this shift in thinking. Doing so might just fix a few of our other social ills at the same time. Something the excessive teaching of sex education and the handing out of free morning after pills, contraception and abortion will never do.