Lowcountry teen pregnancy groups battle misinformation in schools, society
By Stacy Jacobsonsjacobson@abcnews4.comCHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- The S.C. House passed a bill this week that would require sexual education materials taught in schools to be "medically accurate." Legislators said educators told them misinformation is being taught in rural South Carolina high schools, including that Mountain Dew can prevent pregnancy.South Carolina ranks worse than 37 other states in its teen pregnancy rates. ABC News 4 spoke to two community organizers working to improve that ranking.Lowcountry programsA child's toy waits on the floor of an 18 year old's bedroom. Her baby is due in two months and she lives at the Florence Crittenton House."The program serves pregnant young women. Our residential program serves girls ages 10 to 21 who are pregnant from across the state of South Carolina," executive director Lisa Van Bergen said.Van Bergen said many girls are not getting they information they need to know about sex."We have young women who come here and are pregnant and honestly don't understand what happened and how they became pregnant," she said. "The vast majority of our young women say they never had a sex ed class."Florence Crittenton's intensive program in downtown Charleston includes medical care, education and strict house rules. Clients live at the home throughout their pregnancies. They live and study under a point-reward system. The more points they get, the more childcare items they earn. Program directors hope the women who stay at the Florence Crittenton home don't return; About 25 percent of teens who give birth end up having another child in their teens, she said.Van Bergen is not alone in her fight against teen pregnancy.Different program, same fightJanie Wilson is the president of the Biblical Family Center on Charleston's East Side. "It's just accepted behavior that it's okay to have sex, unprotected sex. It's okay to have children out of wedlock. It's not anything that's challenged because it's considered the norm," Wilson said.Wilson uses a "pink van" to take girls on summer camp trips to the Battery and to a Huger farm where they ride horses. She "shows them what they're made of" and defines that motto as having self-respect and the courage to be different. "That people begin to understand at an early age where they're destined to be, what their purpose is, what their life is all about. It's not to become pregnant at 12. It's not to drop out of school," Wilson said.Proposed sex ed billWilson and Van Bergen disagree over how to teach women to avoid pregnancy. Wilson teaches girls abstinence. While Van Bergen knows abstinence is the best way to avoid getting pregnant, she does not think it's a realistic teaching tool."The reality is, about half of our young people by the time they're in high school are sexually active. We need to act so they can protect themselves," Van Bergen said.The bill that passed the house would require all information taught in schools to be "medically accurate." Rep. Jenny Horne (R) sponsored the bill. She said she hoped it would standardize curricula around the state, especially in more rural counties where she said information being taught was inaccurate.Van Bergen said girls who come to the Florence Crittenton home had been taught a wide array of incorrect lessons."They are taught information about contraception like male partners won't be willing to use it, it will decrease the pleasure for the partner. They've been taught they can get cancer or be damaged if they use contraception," she said.But both Van Bergen and Wilson agreed talking about sex and empowering girls with knowledge would be the best way to help."Parents and pastors should be talking to young people about values and decisions about their bodies. That's the best thing to happen. The minimum that schools can do is make sure they get the medically accurate information," Van Bergen said."We're trying to infiltrate or break the trend. Break the cyclical effect of seeing something done at a negative fashion, saying there's a better way," Wilson said.The state Senate could vote on the bill by the end of the spring session, Horne said.