Teen Pregnancy 'Solution' Upsets UK Parents

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LONDON - Parents in the United Kingdom are angry over a government experiment to give birth control to teens.

The UK has one of the highest rates for teenage pregnancy in Europe. In response, local governments started girls birth control pills without a doctor's prescription.

Southwark and Lambeth, two inner-city areas in London with the highest teenage pregnancy rates, are the first to try the approach. If deemed successful, the project could be rolled out nationwide.

The move is being promoted with eye-catching adverts, but critics say there is no evidence that providing the pill over-the-counter will reduce teen pregnancy rates.

"We have a number of specific medical concerns but in general this well intentioned programs simply create a climate that conveys to young people the message that having sex whenever you feel like it is normal," Dr. Andrew Fergusson of the Christian Medical Fellowship said. "The evidence in a range of issues like this suggest that the picture of teenage pregnancy will actually increase and not be reduced."

Parents of teenage girls are extremely concerned, particularly regarding their parental rights if this project is launched nationally.

"It would take away the right of a parent to put good values within the child," one father said.

Rachel Gardener is with the Christian youth abstinence organization Romance Academy. She's also concerned that the project, which also provides consultations for teenage girls, will remove parental involvement in this process.

"They're rolling out a project that is removing adult intervention," she said. "I think there's a feeling that any adults involved are going to be moralizing."

Romance Academy educates young people not to have sex before marriage. Gardener says this approach is the best way to reduce such high rates of teenage pregnancies.

"We feel very much that for a safe sex message to work it needs to be embedded deeply within a much more robust, safer relationships forum and that's where we come in," she explained.

Southwark Primary Care Centre was unavailable to comment on their controversial scheme, but in a statement the center said it was taking a responsible approach to the reality that many teenage girls over the age of 16 were sexually active. It says the key element to help the plan is it makes contraceptives accessible to young women.

But there are major concerns among the Christian community if this pilot project, currently taking place in Southwark and Lambeth does go nationwide. In response many Christians are campaigning against this and instead are promoting abstinence.

*Originally published January 22, 2010. 

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