What I didn't see was anyone who actually looked at the data to see if there was any correlation. So I did. I compared Guttmacher's numbers for pregnancy among 15-19-year-olds to SIECUS' numbers for abstinence-only education funding, divided by the number of pupils in each state's public school system. I threw out DC's outlier numbers. The results (standard correlation-causation caveats apply):
The data show a slight - very slight - positive correlation between abstinence-only funding per pupil and teen pregnancy rate. That would seem to support the case of abstinence-only opponents. It's hard to read much out of such a low correlation number, but let's compare a state's teen pregnancy rate to its median income level - poverty is often cited as a cause of teen pregnancy - and see what we get:
That's the negative correlation we would expect, but it's an even worse correlation.
So what can we conclude? First, we can discard the idea of poverty leading to teen pregnancy, at least as a primary factor. Abstinence-only education is more of a factor, though the low correlation number would suggest that there are either a) other things that are more of a factor or b) a whole host of things that affect teen-pregnancy rates that I didn't graph.
Here's a few more fun tidbits of data:
- The national average for abstinence-only education funding per pupil is $3.73. Only two states in the bottom 15 of teen pregnancy rates - Nebraska (9th lowest) and South Dakota (11th lowest) - spend more than this on abstinence-only education.
- The five states with the lowest rates - New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Minnesota, and North Dakota - all spend less than a dollar per pupil on abstinence-only.
- Seven states - Vermont, Minnesota, Idaho (!), Montana, Rhode Island, Wyoming, and Delaware - spend no money on abstinence-only education. The first four states on that list are all in the bottom 15. Delaware has the 6th highest rate - Rhode Island and Wyoming are firmly middle-of-the-pack.
- The state that spends the most on abstinence-only, South Dakota, has the 11th lowest teen pregnancy rate. The state that spends the second-most, Mississippi, has the 5th highest.
What's truly weird is that culture doesn't appear to play any role in teen pregnancy either. Generally socially conservative states appear on both sides of the teen pregnancy spectrum, as do generally socially liberal states. (Southern states do appear to concentrate near the top though - Virginia has the lowest rate among Southern states, and it's 20th lowest.)
If there's a conclusion to be drawn here, it's that abstinence-only education has been a factor - but hardly the only factor, or even the most important one - in increasing teen pregnancy rates. Comprehensive sex education can decrease teen pregnancy rates somewhat, but it isn't the cure-all for pregnancy rates that supporters often portray it as. But most importantly, teen pregnancy is a phenomenon whose many causes are not well understood - well, except for the direct cause, of course.
The other option, of course, is that the two are so lightly correlated that there can be no causative link, and that the two are independent phenomena. From looking at these data, there's a good argument to be made that the level of sex education doesn't really affect whether or not teens get pregnant. Either way, though, abstinence-only advocates like to push their programs as a cure for teen pregnancy. We can conclude that that's clearly not the case - as our data show, there's no possibility that abstinence-only education funding could decrease teen pregnancy rates.