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Keeping young mothers in school has proved to be a stickier problem. Among TAPP counselees, for example, nearly half who were not enrolled in school were persuaded to resume their education. Unfortunately, an additional 31% who had been attending decided to drop out. In New York City, special public high schools have been established for pregnant teenagers to encourage them to stick with it. New York has also established day-care facilities at 18 of its 117 high schools, so that mothers can continue to attend after they have given birth.
Increasingly, conservative religious organizations have got into the business of aiding pregnant teenagers as a way of discouraging abortion. Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority has, for example, developed a nationwide $4 million program called Save-a-Baby, run in conjunction with an adoption agency. "We agree to assist girls who are fixing to have an abortion, if they will let the baby live," says Jim Savley, the program's executive director.
Other programs for teen mothers emphasize careful instruction in family planning to prevent more unwanted pregnancies. Some go so far as to send a social worker to the hospital shortly after the girl has given birth in order to present gifts of condoms and contraceptive foam, along with something for the baby. Increasingly, programs like the Door in New York and Crittenton Center in Los Angeles have extended their contraceptive-counseling programs to teens who have not yet become pregnant. Crittenton purposely holds discussion groups that mix young mothers with other adolescents to reinforce the lessons on birth control. "When they see how hard it is to be a mother," says Executive Director Sharon Watson, "they don't get pregnant."
Many believe that such lessons should be a regular part of the curriculum in public schools. According to a TIME poll taken by the research firm of Yankelovich, Skelly & White, Inc., 78% of Americans respond yes to the question "Do you favor sex education in the schools, including information about birth control?" And yet, despite the majority opinion, the subject of sex education remains a divisive one. On one side are those like Wattleton of Planned Parenthood who argue that Americans should learn to accept adolescent sexuality and make guidance and birth control more easily available, as it is in parts of Europe. On the other side are those who contend that sex education is up to the parents, not the state, and that teaching children about birth control is tantamount to condoning promiscuity. Sex-education classes are simply "sales meetings" for abortion clinics, says Phyllis Schlafly, a leading right-to-lifer. In addition, she claims, there is simply no way to tell youngsters about contraception "without implicitly telling them that sex is O.K. You've put your Good Housekeeping seal on it."
The conflict has contributed to riotous clashes at school-board meetings whenever the sex-education curriculums come up for review. Last year, for example, when New York City developed a program designed to help combat a runaway rate of teenage pregnancy, religious groups presented a list of 56 objections. In middleclass San Juan Capistrano, Calif., the fray over sex-education reform grew so heated last spring that conservative opponents showed up at a school-board meeting dressed in Revolutionary War garb and bearing a cannon.