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The Dallas Morning News

June 13, 2018

The Dallas City Council voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to spend $300,000 on a program aimed at reducing skyrocketing teen pregnancy rates — numbers that far outpace the national average.

The program involves a public-awareness prevention campaign and a seminar called Families Talking Together, designed to help parents discuss sex with their kids. The council authorized $300,000 for an educational campaign last year, and has been discussing this one in committee meetings for several months.

But it did not pass without controversy when a pastor spoke in opposition to the program by insisting it contained “concerning” content. That pastor was Ryan Wall, director of city engagement at Watermark Community Church, to which council member Adam McGough belongs.

McGough was the lone council member to vote against the expenditure.

Several council members, many in southern Dallas, said the program was desperately needed in a city where, as council member Mark Clayton said, “we have nine kids a day born” to teen mothers. Clayton co-chairs the Mayor’s Poverty Task Force, which has frequently addressed Dallas’ high teen-pregnancy numbers as a key driver of poverty.

The council has been told that in the 75215 ZIP code alone —which stretches from the Cedars down Interstate 45 to William Blair Park — the teen pregnancy rate is five times higher than the national average. Three other southern Dallas ZIP codes have similarly high rates. So, too, does one in northwest Dallas — 75220, which stretches from Preston Hollow to near Las Colinasand includes the apartments around Bachman Lake.

The council has signaled its support for a program that will be administered by the North Texas Alliance to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy in Teens — or NTARUPT, pronounced “interrupt.”

Teen pregnancy comes with a high price, council members were told. Not only are young mothers less likely to pursue careers or more likely to wind up in poverty, but Dallas County spent almost $12 million delivering babies born to girls ages 15-19 in 2014 alone.

“We have ZIP codes that are worse than Sub-Saharan Africa,” Clayton said.

NTARUPT’s program will mirror the Teen Pregnancy Preventioncampaign unveiled by the United Way in Milwaukee a decade ago, which targets at-risk teens using social media and TV ads. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported in 2016 that the teen pregnancy rate there had declined 65 percent since 2006.

The Milwaukee program also offers materials, in English and Spanish, to parents who want to talk to their children about the risks of sexual activity — especially without the use of birth control.

The funding for the teen pregnancy program had originally been on the council’s consent agenda, but McGough pulled it.

Watermark’s Wall was the only public speaker to object to it. He also gave council members a stack of NTARUPT materials, including some with information regarding anal and oral sex, the use of condoms and masturbation. That material was excerpted from NTARUPT sex-ed courses that are not part of the city’s campaign. Clayton and NTARUPT’s leaders said the material was selectively chosen to sensationalize NTARUPT’s work.

“Whoever put this notebook together, if you bastardize your belief structure to get a desired outcome,” he said, “then shame on you.”

Wall said he was initially supportive of the program, but ultimately, he told the council, “I don’t think this content, this curriculum aligns with our values, and we’re concerned with what we’re teaching our kids.”

Former U.S. Department of Labor attorney Terry Greenberg, who serves as NTARUPT’s CEO, reiterated that the program wouldn’t be taken into schools, and wouldn’t involve sex education.

“We are talking about the futures of the kids of this city,” she said of the program, which will need private funding to continue past the one year the council agreed to Wednesday. “We need some game-changers.”

McGough said he had “principled objections” to the agenda item. But, instead, he spoke only about “process issues,” insisting, among other things, that teen pregnancy was tied to bigger issues no social-media campaign could address or fix. He said he did not believe that “we can put together a PR campaign and go into the communities and tell them how they are going to behave.”