Programs to Avert Teen Pregnancies Urged
Study Chaired by Dean at Medical School Issued This Week
Teenage sex, which results in a million pregnancies a year, must be countered with aggressive sex education programs and "diligent contraceptive use" to reduce births and abortions among the nation's youth, a panel chaired by Harvard Medical School Dean of Students Daniel D. Federman '49 said in a report released Tuesday.
After a two-year study of teenage pregnancy, the National Research Council panel concluded that "the highest priority" must be given to pregnancy prevention--including widespread distribution of birth control devices to youths.
There is little evidence that existing efforts to discourage teenagers from engaging in sex are effective and no convincing data that the availability of contraceptive services encourages early sex, said the panel report, which was released in Washington.
The National Research Council is the research arm of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), an independent, federally-chartered study organization which investigates technical issues for the federal government.
The study, supported by five major philanthropic foundations, was conducted by a 15-member panel of doctors, social scientists and public health experts chaired by Federman, who specializes in the study of hormones and their effects on human growth and development.
Federman was selected to chair the panel on the basis of his scientific expertise and leadership qualities, said NAS staff member Cheryl D. Hayes, who directed the study.
Federman left the country Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.
Federman, who was not an expert on the issue, was chosen in part because "he had no ax to grind," Hayes said, adding that he does not receive research grants from the five foundations which sponsored the study.
She said he was a "superb chair" and that he discouraged panel members from bringing prior moral judgments to their analysis of the available data.
Nevertheless, the study was criticized by conservative organizations.
A policy analyst for the National Forum Foundation, a Washington-based conservative think-tank, said the panel was composed of a "rather closed circle of people" with liberal viewpoints and that the report issued Tuesday was a "foregone conclusion" with serious flaws.
"Teenage pregnancy is a cultural phenomenon that passing out condoms is not going to solve," said Forum Foundation analyst Joseph Piccione. "The contraceptive mentality is simply surrender," he said.
The report said that the problem of adolescent pregnancy and child bearing is a controversial matter of national concern that stirs "so many deep-seated emotions and convictions."
Priority must be given to stopping these pregnancies through sex education and contraception, followed by programs to encourage youths to delay sexual initiation and assume more responsibility for their actions.