New Bipartisan Report Finds Texas Sex Ed Opt-In Law Impacts At-Risk Students & Increase Disparities
May 9, 2023 (SAN ANTONIO) – Texas teenagers are giving birth at a rate that is 46 percent higher than the national average, according to the latest Texas Adolescent Health Report (TAHR) released by Healthy Futures of Texas. The Texas teen birth rate was 20.3 per 1,000 teens, while the U.S. teen birth rate was 13.9 for the same age group – a 46 percent difference.
The 2021 data reflects pregnancies that occurred after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic when many schools were closed to in-person learning. Structural issues such as poverty and lack of access to health care and sexual education information can contribute to teen pregnancy rates. Additionally, a new evaluation finds that Texas’ opt-in policy presents barriers to receiving sexual health and abuse prevention education.
The new “Opt-In Policy for Sexual Health Education & Abuse Prevention – Texas School Representatives’ Attitudes & Experiences” program evaluation was facilitated through an agreement between The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health (UTHealth Houston) and Healthy Futures of Texas.
Texas Teen Birth Rates Vary Tremendously Across Counties and by Race
While the overall teen birth rate in Texas and nationwide declined by nine percent from the prior year – continuing a long trend of decreasing teen birth rates – significant disparities exist across racial and geographic lines, the data shows.
“This latest data supports what we continue to see in communities across Texas, said Jen Biundo, Senior Director of Policy and Research for Healthy Futures of Texas. “Inequities in access to sexual health education and resources, particularly for teens who are Black or Hispanic, and those who live in rural communities, are contributing to significant disparities in teen birth rates.”
In Texas, birth rates among Hispanic and Black teens are 2.4 times and 1.9 times higher than their white peers, respectively. Birth rates were 28.17 per 1,000 for Hispanic teens, 22.29 per 1,000 for Black teens, and 11.71 per 1,000 for white teens.
While the largest number of teen births in Texas occurred in the state’s four most populous counties – Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, and Bexar – teen birth rates were highest in more rural counties, especially those in West Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. County-level 2021 teen birth rate data are available for counties with a total population over 100,000. Among these counties, Potter County (Amarillo, Texas), Ector County (Odessa, Texas), and Webb County (Laredo, Texas) had the highest teen birth rates. Data for smaller counties will be available later this year. See the county reports online here.
First-of-its-Kind Evaluation Asks Texas School Reps. About State’s Opt-In Sex Ed Policy
Texas is one of five states that require written parent consent for sexual health education and the only state to require parent opt-in for abuse prevention instruction. In 2021, the Texas Legislature passed new laws requiring schools to obtain written parental consent (“opt-in”) before students could receive sex education or abuse prevention instruction.
To evaluate the impact of this policy on the implementation of sexual health and abuse prevention education among youth in Texas schools, a diverse, bipartisan sample of Texas school representatives was surveyed by UTHealth Houston and Healthy Futures of Texas to assess their attitudes and experiences.
A majority of the respondents view the opt-in policy as a barrier to receiving sexual health and abuse prevention education. The opt-in policy is set to expire in 2024, but the Texas Senate has advanced legislation that (if passed) would make this requirement permanent.
Expanded Organization and Solutions
“This latest Texas Adolescent Health Report shows that as a non-partisan, non-profit organization, our focus on prevention is more important than ever,” said Evelyn Delgado, CEO of Healthy Futures of Texas.
“Despite recent declines, the Texas teen birth rate is 46 percent higher than the U.S. rate, and Texas continues to have one of the highest rates of repeat teen pregnancies in the nation. To better address this persistent trend, Healthy Futures of Texas merged with The Texas Campaign and NTARUPT. As a larger integrated organization, we’re developing new approaches and programs to change the systems and behaviors that impact teen pregnancy,” said Delgado.
As part of its enhanced approach, Healthy Futures of Texas is launching ‘Talk About It Texas,’ a statewide effort to give young people accurate information and safe spaces to talk honestly about sexual and reproductive health with their parents, friends, families, and educators. The initiative aims to increase equitable access to sexual health education, healthcare, training, and technical assistance, especially in minority and rural communities.
‘Talk About It Texas’ includes creating sex education and leadership training programs for youth and advocacy groups in high schools and universities; providing parents and caregivers resources to help have positive conversations with their children, and; creating evidence-based sexual health curricula to help young people make informed decisions about sex and relationships.
These efforts will also help address the rising rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) among Texas teens. Since 2009, cases of gonorrhea among Texas youth ages 15-24 have increased by 48 percent, chlamydia cases have increased by 12 percent, and HIV cases have increased by 10 percent. Additionally, in the last decade, syphilis cases among 15-24-year-olds in Texas have increased by 42 percent, with concerning increases also seen in congenital syphilis, which is often fatal to infants. Young people under 25 make up a majority of new STI diagnoses.
About Healthy Futures of Texas
Healthy Futures of Texas (HFTX) is a non-partisan, non-profit organization committed to reducing unplanned and teen pregnancies through science-based education and advocacy efforts that empower young people, women, and families to make the best decisions for their futures.