To the Editor,

I appreciate Bruce Zimmerman’s recent letter to the editor expressing concern over abortion and its impact on the African-American community.

Bruce objected to a billboard that he saw in the Oak Cliff area of Dallas that proclaimed, “ABORTION IS SELF-CARE.” Bruce said he wished he could put another billboard next to it that says, “ABORTION IS NOT CARING.”

If there is room for yet another sign along that highway, I would like to add a third: “SEX EDUCATION IS CARING.”

Of course, I know billboards will do nothing to curb abortion. Legal restrictions on the state level seem to have resulted in the opposite impact than was intended. And, on the federal level, even if Roe v. Wade were overturned, the issue of abortion would not go away. But we could make a real impact in lowering the number of abortions – regardless of the status of laws governing abortion access - by working to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies. Evidence-based sex education programs in public schools have been proven to do just that.

In 2011, working to reduce abortion access, state lawmakers cut funds for family planning by two-thirds. Dozens of family planning clinics closed. Nevertheless, a study by Analisa Packham, an economics professor at Miami University in Ohio, found that teen abortion rates increased by 3.1 percent in Texas over the next three years. The teen birth rate increased by 3.4 percent. (Packham did the study while she was at Texas A&M University.)

But what if we could actually reduce the number of abortions and reduce poverty? It can be done, but few school districts are choosing to do it.

Only 17 percent of school districts in our state offer abstinence-plus sex education programs that include information on contraception, according to a February 2017 report by the Texas Freedom Network. The group’s report also states that, in 2015-16, about eight in 10 Texas school districts taught abstinence alone “or nothing at all when it comes to sex education.”

Whether local school boards are prompted by religious concerns or the fear of voter backlash, the lack of real sex education is devastating in terms of unplanned teen pregnancies, which are tied directly to the cycle of poverty. Texas teen pregnancy rates are consistently higher than the national average, and our state has the highest number of repeat teen pregnancies in the country, according to the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

If we care about preventing abortions, shouldn’t we insist on public policy decisions that help young women from reaching a point at which they have to make a decision about an unplanned pregnancy? Shouldn’t we be working to prevent those unplanned pregnancies from happening?

Nearly half of all Texas teenagers are having sex, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What information are they receiving about the consequences of their decisions, and from whom? Clearly, in most cases, what is passing as “sex education” in Texas schools is ineffective and a disservice to our young people. We are all impacted.

There is another way.

Abstinence-plus, evidence-based programs are distinguishable from other sex education programs. They have been developed by professionals, tested through rigorous trials and found to be effective in reducing teen pregnancies. They have also been approved by the University of Texas School of Public Health Prevention Research Center, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, the CDC and others.

If we provide our young people with accurate information, they are more likely to make better decisions.

It can be done if our leaders have the courage to act.

Abstinence-plus, evidence-based sex education is CARING.

The Rev. Matt Curry, Pastor, Central Presbyterian Church of Waxahachie