A birth control message from the Macon-Bibb County Health Department on a Macon-Bibb bus.

A birth control message from the Macon-Bibb County Health Department on a Macon-Bibb bus.

Audio story - Battling Teen Pregnancy in Macon-Bibb County

A small, white bungalow off a main road in Macon represents a more aggressive response by Macon-Bibb County health officials to teen pregnancy.

“This is the lab,” said Bibb County Health Administrator Nancy White, as she tours her department’s new teen health center. “We will do pregnancy testing and STD testing here.”

They’ll not only administer tests but county health officials will provide free birth control to teenagers. Georgia law allows minors 12 years of age and older to access birth control without parental consent. 

White hopes the new center – less than a half mile from Central High School – will encourage teens to protect themselves.  There will be a teen health educator staffing it.  This is a teenager-only space.

“Well, they won't come if they don't sense that they have confidentiality and a safe place,” she said.

High school freshman Bobbi Atkinson likes the idea. But she wonders if having the center so close to the school might actually discourage some students. 

“You have other kids who are nasty and low character who might laugh or talk about it and spread rumors,” said Atkinson. “So I think it would be OK to space it away from the school.”

In Macon-Bibb County, there are 45 births to every 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19. That’s higher than the state teen birth rate, which is higher than the national figure. Bibb County health and school officials have made lowering that rate a priority. The emphasis is on information about birth control.

The Macon teen health center is modeled after a long-standing initiative in Athens-Clarke County – where teen birth rates are among the lowest in Georgia. Lou Kudon, program manager for the North East Health District, which includes Clarke County, said getting buy-in from the school district is essential to success.

“We both know what our interests are,” Kudon said. “We want to produce a generation of teens who have the ability to … be well educated and realize their potential without having to take care of an unwanted child.”

Bibb County schools have embraced the health department’s effort, said Jamie Cassady, assistant superintendent for Bibb County Schools, who oversees sex education policy

The district itself is also changing the way it does things – implementing a curriculum called “Family Life and Sexual Health” or FLASH.

“In the past (the schools) just taught abstinence,” said Cassady. “Part of the FLASH program is, in addition to teaching life skills and abstinence, we're also going to include the piece on birth control, on teenage pregnancy.”

Those who believe in abstinence say stressing birth control misses the mark.

“It does facilitate a normalization of teen sex that we believe is harmful and it is a great disservice to our youth,” said Mary Ann Mosack, director of state initiatives for Ascend, a national organization that promotes “sexual risk avoidance,” or abstinence, curriculum.

Bibb County health officials say abstinence is still part of the message. But they’re hardly shying away from their new emphasis – even shrink wrapping public buses with ads promoting free birth control.

“That is to build community awareness that we are birth control experts, number one,” said County Health Administrator Nancy White. “And, number two, there are services that are free to teens.”

White says her team will track activity at the teen center – from the number of visits to the birth control methods given away. But the teen pregnancy rate will be the department’s ultimate measure.

Support for Health, Education, and Poverty  reporting on GPB Macon comes from the Peyton Anderson Foundation.