A current uproar at Notre Dame University shows that President Obama, usually greeted by adoring crowds, seems to be losing some of his rock star status-and for all the wrong reasons. This Sunday, President Obama is slated to give the commencement speech at Notre Dame's graduation ceremony. Some have protested loudly and passionately, pointing to Obama's current policies on abortion and the obvious clash with the Roman Catholic tradition of the University.
As a pro-choice Catholic who attended a Jesuit school, I was surprised and pleased to see that a school with Catholic affiliation would allow him to speak. Others were not so happy. Surprisingly, it is not Obama's open support for a woman's right to choose that has incensed many as much as his smart decision to withdraw funding from abstinence-only education programs.
The Bush administration championed abstinence-only policies at the heavy cost of access to essential health information and services. Parents may cringe at the idea of their teenagers talking about condoms and emergency contraception. But repeatedly, research shows that abstinence-only education leads to more teenage pregnancies not fewer. A recent study using federal data by Janet E. Rosenbaum of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that abstinence pledges among teens were in fact counterproductive. Without the knowledge of safe sex practices, teens were just as likely to have premarital sex but less likely to utilize any form of birth control.
There is a simple fact that many pro-abstinence activists refuse to accept: teenagers in America are having sex. Whether they learn how to protect themselves or not. Regardless of where we stand on this issue, many of us agree that teenagers having unprotected sex is risky and that the current level of teenage pregnancy is a problem that we should try to reduce.
According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, one out of every three women and girls in the United States has been pregnant at least once by the time she turns 20. Only 40 percent of mothers who have children before they turn 17 graduate from high school (http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/national-data/default.aspx). When a pregnant teen is not able to finish high school we lose a potential college student. She will face far more restricted choices and opportunities in life when it comes to her career and her income.
Abstinence-only programs fail these young women. They fail to provide teenagers with the knowledge they need to protect themselves not only from unwanted early parenthood, but also from sexually-transmitted disease. President Obama's decision to end a clearly ineffective policy should be regarded as a good decision.
I find the center of this particular controversy somewhat paradoxical. On Sunday, Obama will be speaking to the exact audience his policy aims to support; young adults whose university prohibits the distribution of contraception. Catholic or not, pro-choice or pro-life, abstinence-only education was a bad policy. I applaud our President for doing away with it and I am confident that at least some of the students that stand before him on Sunday will too.