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Baby-safety bill ignores reality of teen pregancy

Daytona Beach News-Journal Editorial

Florida's leaders have done their best to convince teen-agers that birth
control is shameful and sex can't be discussed.

Is it any wonder that teen mothers are concealing pregnancies and leaving
their babies on doorsteps and in garbage dumpsters?

Six babies have been abandoned in Central Florida over the past five
weeks. Those were the ones who were found. There may be others that nobody but the mother - almost always a teenager, in a baby-dumping case - will ever know about.

The baby-dumping epidemic has forced lawmakers to consider legislation
that would give parents the ability to leave a newborn in a safe place, no
questions asked.

The language of the bill is almost horrifying in its mundaneness. Babies,
which must be less than 72 hours old, would be put into the custody of the
Department of Children and Families. Parents would have 30 days to come forward. No criminal charges would be filed.

The bill also provides for a hotline for pregnant women who fear they
can't care for their infants.

Safe-baby legislation is a sad necessity, and it should be approved. But
it doesn't address the real problem - why a teenage girl would conceal her
pregnancy and then abandon the child to live or die. Why she didn't reach
out for help. Why she was pregnant in the first place.

Those are questions that lawmakers have long chosen to ignore. Sex
education is mandatory in schools, but over the past several years state leaders have worked to strip reality from programs and replace it with idealistic fantasy.

Talk of contraceptives is forbidden. Teachers are bound by law to discuss
only abstinence as the only sure method to prevent disease and pregnancy.

Now, Secretary of Health Bob Brooks wants to set aside $10 million for
private groups to teach abstinence. Much of the money would go to
religious organizations.

The goal of abstinence-based sex education is laudable, and it might
bolster some teens' resolve not to have sex. But for others, it doesn't work.

Sociologists say today's teens can't be reached by a preachy message that
ignores their raging hormones, broken families and exposure to the
constant bombardment of sex-related ads and entertainment. An irreverant, up-front approach, on the other hand, might have limited success. The success of the ongoing TRUTH campaign against tobacco shows that public-service spots that address the realities of teens' lives can make a difference.

Studies show that only two things are truly effective in lowering teen
pregnancy rates: counseling and readily available contraception. Neither
is available in schools. Instead, teens are forced to rely on their parents
and friends, many of whom still believe that drinking a certain kind of soda can prevent pregnancy.

And so residents of Florida are left to wait for news of the next
abandoned baby, to wonder if she will be found in time, to mourn if she dies. And the Legislature is forced to discuss safe havens for babies that never should have been conceived - and would not have, if lawmakers had faced reality.


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