Shared from the 2017-09-22 San Antonio Express eEdition

Targeting teenage pregnancies

Council votes to keep program two more years

Picture

Photos by John Davenport / San Antonio Express-News

District 6 Councilman Greg Brockhouse speaks to Colleen Bridger, director of Metropolitan Health District. The council approved a contract to continue a teen pregnancy prevention program through September 2019. Brockhouse was the lone dissenter.

Picture

Reiana Fernandez, 19, speaks in support of the program, which is paid for by the state with federal dollars.

Picture

John Davenport / San Antonio Express-News

Metropolitan Health District Director Colleen Bridger speaks about teen pregnancy prevention at the City Council meeting.

The City Council voted overwhelmingly Thursday to continue a teen pregnancy prevention program through September 2019 that provides both birth control and behavioral and mental health counseling for teen parents.

In 2013, the city’s Metropolitan Health District submitted six proposals — for diabetes prevention, children’s oral health services, HIV and syphilis prevention, neighborhood health promotion, breastfeeding promotion and teen pregnancy prevention — totaling more than $43 million in federal funding that passes through the state to local jurisdictions.

The program was set to expire at the end of this year, but the Health and Human Services Commission has requested an extension that would continue the program until Sept. 30, 2019, according to city documents.

The item was set for a quick, rubber-stamp approval, but Councilman Greg Brockhouse requested that it be debated. He suggested that the city should reprogram the $325,000 that is set aside to provide teenagers with access — with parental consent — to long-term, reversible contraceptive methods, such as intrauterine devices, known as IUDs.

Council gadfly Jack M. Finger and defeated District 9 council candidate Patrick Von Dohlen, a conservative Christian who previously opposed the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance, spoke against the funding. Finger called it a “teen promiscuity promotion program.” Von Dohlen called it “offensive” and suggested that the council was going against its recently adopted charter of compassion by providing longterm birth control to teenagers.

The council approved the contract, which is paid for by the state with federal dollars, 9-1. Brockhouse dissented.

Councilman Rey Saldaña was absent.

There was a lengthy exchange between Brock-house and Metro Health Director Colleen Bridger. He asked whether the funds had to be spent specifically on birth control. She said the funds were to be used on the comprehensive teen pregnancy prevention program — the funding doesn’t come with strings to particular methods of preventing pregnancy.

“It does not come with rules about how you have to spend it to reduce teen pregnancy. So we could spend it any number of ways. We’re spending it the way evidence-based programming says works — to make sure you have education, that you have mental health, that you have access to contraceptives and that you have education that helps parents communicate with their teens, and we’re doing all of those items.”

Bridger noted that only 25 percent of the funding for teen pregnancy prevention is spent on contraceptives. She also told the council that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been studying teen pregnancy for decades and recommends a multipronged approach to reducing the teen pregnancy rate.

Though teen pregnancy rates have dropped in San Antonio, they remain among the highest in the state, Bridger said. In 2014, San Antonio’s birth rate for teens between 15 and 19 was 37.4 per 1,000. Similar figures collected by council district show that in 2010, that rate was the highest in District 5, with 100.7, and the lowest in District 8, with 20.4. By 2016, the rate in District 5 had dropped by almost 45 percent to 55.6. In District 8, it dropped to 9.5, a 53.4 percent reduction.

It was Brockhouse’s District 6 that had the most precipitous decrease, from 56.5 to 24.7 — a 56.3 percent reduction.

Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran thanked the several women who testified on behalf of the funding — including a teenager who offered a firsthand glimpse into stories of her friends who are in need of such services. The pregnancy prevention, the councilwoman said, would help break long-standing cycles of economic segregation, among other things, and allow for better outcomes for young girls “who deserve a chance at a better life.”

Councilman Manny Pelaez argued that the U.S. Constitution allows for such efforts, ensuring that government look after the “general welfare” of its citizens.

And Councilwoman Ana Sandoval pointed to the myriad setbacks a teenage mother faces, underscoring the importance of preventing pregnancy until later in life.

“A pregnant teenage mom is really less likely to have access to prenatal care. … So this is going to put her at risk for poor health outcomes,” she said. Those include low birth weight, premature births and infant mortality, the councilwoman said.

“She’s going to be less likely to complete middle school, high school,” Sandoval said. “She’s less likely to go to college or trade school, less likely to have a career, less likely to be part of the competitive workforce.”

Referencing Von Dohlen’s remarks about compassion, Sandoval said that’s exactly what the city is doing.

“This is about breaking the cycle of poverty and giving people opportunities,” she said. “And it is absolutely compassionate for us to offer this option and remove those barriers for the women who need it and to give opportunities to our youth.”

Just before the vote, Mayor Ron Nirenberg reminded the council and the audience that the local body had debated this same issue in the past.

“Unfortunately, in political circles, this is, has been and will be one of the most discussed topics in American life,” he said. “But as we have seen already, this council, this city will make decisions based on evidence, based on data.” jbaugh@express-news.net Twitter: @jbaugh

See this article in the e-Edition Here