Cheering Not Jeering: Arkansas Bill to Address Unplanned Pregnancy Among College Students
March 30, 2015
The Arkansas legislature has just passed a bill to begin addressing unplanned pregnancy among students at community colleges and public universities. This bipartisan bill, introduced by Rep. Deborah Ferguson (D-West Memphis) and Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Springdale) in the House, and Sen. Keith Ingram (D-West Memphis), is a smart step to reach older teens in the state with the highest teen birth rate in the country, and where 75% of all teen births are to 18- to 19-year-olds. The bill is modeled after pioneering legislation in Mississippi, which was enacted last year with bipartisan support in the legislature and from the Governor.
Unfortunately, the Arkansas bill has attracted some ridicule because it mentions abstinence but doesn’t explicitly mention contraception. But, let’s take a breath and put this in perspective. Yes, contraception is absolutely important especially for college students, most of whom are having sex. Yes, making sure people know about and have access to the most effective methods of contraception is key. And, yes, content should be relevant for students who are legal adults.
As Benjamin Hardy points out, the bill has ONE reference to abstinence. It is one of many things mentioned, and in fact is in the context of the following point: “Integrate information that is recognized as medically accurate by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists about the prevention of unplanned pregnancy into academic courses if and when appropriate, including without limitation abstinence education.” While a shame that the bill doesn’t use the word contraception, it does reference collaborating with “the Department of Health or federally qualified health centers, or both, to promote access to care” (which undoubtedly would include contraception). In my experience, people working with students at community colleges and universities are quite practical and understand the reality of their students’ lives. I have some confidence in them to develop a plan that recognizes this reality—and in fact people may want to offer their input as that happens. The fact that a bill on this topic was introduced by Democratic and Republican co-sponsors and passed the Arkansas House and Senate with overwhelming supports says they understand something about navigating the political realities in Arkansas.
An unplanned pregnancy can make it more difficult for students to succeed in or complete college, yet few colleges provide information or services to help students postpone having children (or additional children) until after they have reached their educational goals. Why not focus on the positive step to address an important issue affecting older teens and college students, and the state’s workforce, rather than letting the perfect be the enemy of the good? I’d vote to cheer rather than jeer this effort.
Andrea Kane is the Vice President for Policy and Strategic Partnerships at The National Campaign. She is responsible for The National Campaign’s public policy program, as well as forging strategic partnerships with a range of public and private sector organizations. During her time at the Campaign, she has helped launch The National Campaign’s work with community colleges, youth in foster care, and with Latino communities.
From 2001 through 2008, she was also affiliated with the Brookings Institution’s Center on Children and Families in various capacities. Before joining The National Campaign in 2001, Andrea served at the White House Domestic Policy Council as a special assistant to President Clinton. She has also worked at the National Governors’ Association, and at the state and local level in California, Texas, and Virginia.
She studied Government at Smith College, received a BA from Cornell University and an MPA from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.