When the DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy was launched in 1999, it aimed to cut the city’s teen pregnancy rate in half by 2005, a goal it exceeded when reduction rates hit 57 percent.
But instead of resting on its laurels, the organization continued its work, which has in recent years been aided by former Attorney General Eric H. Holder and his wife Sharon Malone, an obstetrician and gynecologist. The couple was honored Tuesday during the campaign’s “Change the Conversation” luncheon at the National Press Club in D.C., with Holder delivering the keynote speech.
“No attorney general in the history of the United States has done more than he did to improve access to justice for low income people,” said James J. Sanders, president of the Legal Services Corporation and chairman of the campaign’s board of directors.
The issue of teenage pregnancy particularly affects youth in Wards 7 and 8. According to the campaign, the two wards had the city’s highest incidents of teen pregnancy with 97 and 164 per 1,000, respectively, in 2016. No other wards broke 70.
However, Holder cited more promising statistics in his speech.
“Its leadership worked with a local strong movement and research based intervention resulted in Washington’s lowest teen pregnancy rate on record — 31.7 pregnancies per 1000 girls 15-19 years old” Holder said of the campaign. “This is 79 percent reductive since the DC Campaign began their efforts.”
Holder also lauded other local teen-pregnancy prevention programs.
“That success is truly extraordinary and I’m honored to support their goals as well as their commitment, but the work is not over,” he said, noting that personal and societal problems resulting from teenage pregnancy often prevent teenage mothers from graduating high school.
In her remarks, Malone said the issue of teen pregnancy is “not just about girls.”
“Teen pregnancy is about boys, it’s about communities and it’s making sure that everyone is involved in that conversation,” she said.
Brenda Rhodes Miller, the campaign’s executive director, agreed.
“There’s an old video that they used to play in planned parenthood and it said hope is not a method,” Miller said. “But, in fact, hope is the best method, because when teenagers have hope for a good future and a positive future, then they have reasons to postpone activities that could lead to them not having that future.”