When American companies and corporations try to drum up business, they feed millions of dollars into advertising – blanketing their savvy messages in newspapers, magazines, billboards, the internet anything to convince the consumer to spend their hard-earned dollars. But if you are a family planning clinic, how do you attract clientele? If you are Planned Parenthood of North Central Ohio, you pay teenagers to recruit their friends. And you use Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF, funds to do it.
According to The Washington Times, Planned Parenthood recently signed a deal that would pay female teens from Morrow County, Ohio high schools stipends of $100 to become “informed educators.” The agreement also states that the girls would be paid “$5 for each patient up to 20 patients that they recruit and shows up for an appointment at our Cardington clinic.”
Cindy Biggs, CEO of Planned Parenthood of North Central Ohio, denied the accuracy of the agreement, saying that two “mother-daughter teams” were recruited instead and that no monies were given to teenagers to recruit their friends. (Dr. Cindy Torrpa, who oversees the funding applications, refused to either confirm or deny Planned Parenthood’s claims.) Biggs, however, was quick to defend the recruiting technique.
“This is not a new model,” she said, claiming word-of-mouth advertising works best and that Planned Parenthood clinics all over the country use the technique. “When we set up shop in Mansfield 35 years ago, one of the things we did was hire outreach workers to go door to door.”
Of the 5,500 to 6,000 clients that Planned Parenthood sees in that five county area, Biggs said most are between the ages of 21-29 years old.
“The smallest group we have is those 19 and under,” she said.
Biggs is right. In October, the Alan Guttmacher Institute reported that the overall abortion rate in the United States decreased by 11 percent between 1994 and 2000. The sharpest decline, a whopping 39 percent, occurred among 15 17 year-olds.
So why are teens not frequenting family planning clinics as they have in years past?
The answer may very well be abstinence. A recent study from the Center for Disease Control found that the number of high school teens who say they’ve never had sexual intercourse rose some 10 percent between 1991 and 2001. The CDC also reported in 2000 that an increasing number of teens who had been sexually active are now abstinent.
But how do such numbers fare with Planned Parenthood?
“Abstinence is one of our birth control methods,” said Biggs, also noting that it was “the most effective” way to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
But when asked if the Bush Administration’s plan to increase funding for abstinence programs to $135 million elicited concern, Biggs was not only less enthusiastic, she was downright fearful.
“Sure,” she said emphatically, “because I think abstinence education levels would be higher than family planning levels.”
According to the Government Accountability Office, Planned Parenthood received $137 million in federal money during fiscal 2001. Abstinence until marriage programs received $102 million in federal money during fiscal 2002.
Biggs added, “I don’t think there’s been any studies that have shown that abstinence education works to reduce teen pregnancy or to reduce or decrease sexual activity among teenagers.”
Here again, Biggs failed to look past her clinic door.
A 1997 article by Dr. Michael Resnick appearing in the Journal of the American Medical Association stated that “abstinence pledge” programs are dramatically effective in reducing sexual activity among teenagers in grades 7 through 12, and were by far the most significant factors in a youth’s delaying early sexual activity.
After an abstinence intervention program media blitz in Monroe County, New York, which included TV and radio advertising, the sexual activity rate of 15-year-olds across the county dropped from 46.6 percent to 31.6 percent. The pregnancy rate also dropped for girls aged 15 through 17 and fell more rapidly in Monroe County than in comparison counties in upstate New York.
A 2001 evaluation of the “Abstinence by Choice” programs in Little Rock, Arkansas that reaches about 4,000 youths each year showed a reduction in the sexual activity rates of approximately 40 percent for girls and approximately 30 percent for boys.
A recent study on a Virginity Pledge Movement of more than 5,000 students found that taking a virginity pledge reduces by one-third the probability that an adolescent will begin sexual activity compared with other adolescents of the same gender and age. The study found that when taking a virginity pledge is combined with strong parental disapproval of sexual activity, the probability of initiation of sexual activity is reduced by 75 percent or more.
And the studies go on.
In all likelihood, Biggs probably has looked beyond her clinic door and is scared by what she sees. If anyone has their eye on this nationwide abstinence movement, it’s Planned Parenthood, whose officials are quick to pay lip service to abstinence but really see it, not only as their competition, but also as the very death knell of their existence.
And so, what’s a family planning clinic to do to but wave dollars in front of female teens who are willing to bring in customers?
Unless, of course, the teens have already chosen to be abstinent.