Loosely Evidence-Based: The Role of Research in U.S. Teen Pregnancy Policy

Julia E. Kohn, Hunter College, City University of New York (CUNY)

Employing a qualitative content analysis of legislative documents, this paper analyzes the use of research during three teen pregnancy policy episodes. It explores the construction of teen pregnancy as an “epidemic” during the 1970s and the use of research in the passage of the Adolescent Health, Services, and Pregnancy Prevention and Care Act of 1978; the use of research on teen pregnancy during the passage of welfare reform in 1996; and the marked shift toward evidence-based policy with the establishment of a new federal teen pregnancy prevention initiative in 2010. Findings reveal that research was more often used symbolically to argue for policies that legislators wished to promote, rather than instrumentally to craft policy provisions. Research that did not support the conventional wisdom was omitted or cited selectively. Research utilization appears to be increasing through policies requiring replication of evidence-based strategies. Implications for policymakers, advocates, and researchers are discussed.

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Presented in Session 130: U.S. Reproductive Health Policy