There has been quite a stir lately in Emmett, Idaho, a Gem County town just northwest of Boise. It seems the town’s youth have been affected by a problem plaguing the nation for years now: teen pregnancy.
Almost everyone agrees something must be done to deal with this crisis but nearly every proposal causes some kind of controversy - whether it’s condom distribution in schools or abstinence from sex before marriage.
Prosecutor Doug Varie has taken an unusual path in the battle against teen pregnancy by enforcing an old Idaho law prohibiting fornication between unmarried minors. As would be expected, a good many people are rather upset at such an “archaic” notion in this day of unrestrained permissiveness.
After all, they say, the government has no right to interfere with the private life of anyone - including teens.
Unfortunately, not a few folks have let their imaginations run wild, given the rather sensational nature of the case. Some have accused Varie of conducting 17th century-style persecution. Others have conjured up images of helpless young girls being led away in chains by a puritanical prosecutor out to ruin their lives.
This sentiment has been echoed by hordes of journalists, from the BBC to NBC’s “Today” show, who have been drawn to this rural Idaho community by the heated debate. Often lost in the discussion is the fact that governments have had restrictions on minors for centuries. Today is no different.
Take underage drinking. It’s illegal for minors to buy or drink alcohol and the vast majority of people approve of this law. The same goes for many other things, like smoking, driving before age 16, getting married and working under certain conditions.
As someone who just turned 18, I have never resented these laws; they exist to shield teens and children from the dangers of an adult world.
Since these limits are widely accepted, why is there such a negative reaction to the Emmett fornication law? Probably since it’s about sexual activity.
But what is not widely know is that the teens prosecuted will have no criminal record. Furthermore, no one could find out because of confidentiality unless the teens themselves went public, as happened in this case.
Teens aren’t the only ones affected by unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. Often families suffer along with them and all too frequently the rest of society is forced to pay the bills. It’s unfortunate that many young people today are not concerned about the harm their actions can cause.
Sexual activity before marriage has definite risks. Short-sighted participation in dangerous behavior can cause not only suffering from the pain of STD, but even the possibility of death from AIDS.
And having a baby is a big commitment. When you are trying to begin your own life, it can be quite a financial drain to provide for an infant. Then there is the time factor during critical years of education and the danger of losing out on important opportunities.
And let’s not forget the damage children born out of wedlock can experience. They deserve to live in a stable family environment which doesn’t exist when we teens are the parents. They need adult role models. Instead, huge numbers of these babies end up in the same cycle of dependency, crime and missed opportunity when they get older.
Ultimately, these cultural trends will only be reversed when people decide to use self control instead of surrendering to the sexual pressures saturating our country. In fact, abstinence is becoming more popular as young people realize sex is not purely pleasure as it has been portrayed in pop culture.
To be honest, I was at first very skeptical of a government-imposed solution to the problem of teen pregnancy. But when some people refuse to act responsibly, this society must insist that such behavior will not escape penalty. That’s why Doug Varie’s decision to take action is not something to be ridiculed. Indeed, it makes perfect sense.