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City Takes Steps To Reduce ‘Catastrophic’ Teen Pregnancy Birth Rate

Photo: Mary Tuma, License: N/A

Mary Tuma

Mayor Julián Castro at last week’s State of the City address

Photo: , License: N/A

However, the “no-brainer” decision met heated controversy from the religious right at the Council meeting, who countered the LARCs posed health risks to young women. (Because it promotes teen sex and promiscuity! Because it’s basically abortion! Because the Bible!) Case in point: More than one testifier incorrectly described the contraceptives as “abortifacients” (abortion drugs), another erroneously likened it to chemically induced abortion and another flat out said, “This bothers God.”

Fear-mongering opponents of the voluntary program rattled off a litany of negative side effects, but Schlenker (an Harvard-educated doctor) says those testifiers cherry-picked and misinformed the public. In fact, both birth control methods are FDA-approved and recognized as safe with no identified long-term fertility effects by major medical organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.

“I haven’t had any negative reaction whatsoever, only lots of positive reactions except for this very small handful of folks who somehow associate it with abortion,” says Schlenker. “But really, it’s probably the most effective thing we can do to prevent abortion—they seem to be confused about that.”

At the meeting, District 6 Councilmember Ray Lopez rattled off his own list of terrible side effects—dizziness, bloody vomit, stomach pain and skin rashes—eliciting applause from opponents, under the impression he was bolstering their point. Turns out, not so much. The council member was reciting the side effects of aspirin, found on a basic internet search. (Boom!) Lopez, not much of a showman, says he wasn’t trying to play “gotcha” but just wanted to alert the naysayers that most medicines have some uncomfortable results.

“The reality is there are negative side effects to virtually every medicine, even something as benign and common a treatment as aspirin,” Lopez tells the Current.

As a long time Northside ISD school board trustee member, Lopez frequently witnessed teenage repeat births and saw it destroy lives—pregnancy is the primary reason girls drop out of high school and is closely linked to poverty and poor health, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. He argues the Medicaid-based investment is long overdue: “It’s catastrophic, and shame on us for not doing everything we can to change that trend,” he says of the repeat teen birth rate problem.

On the other end, new council member and former Ronald Reagan social aide Mike Gallagher (who replaced Carlton Soules on the dais in District 10) served as the lone “no” vote, citing safety concerns.

But it appears efforts to curb teen pregnancy rates would certainly benefit the community he represents—in District 10, there’s still anywhere between 2.4 to 88.2 teens giving birth per 1,000 women ages 15-19 according to 2012 statistics.

Running on a fiscally conservative platform, Gallagher’s constituents may find it interesting that taxpayers take a big hit when unintended pregnancies occur. In 2012, Bexar County residents spent an estimated $59.6 million on associated costs of teen childbearing, including child welfare, healthcare, lost revenue and incarceration expenses, according to the Metro Health District. And public funding of low-cost contraception saves taxpayers approximately $6 for every $1 spent.

Gallagher did not return calls for comment.

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