published Monday, February 27th, 2012

Decline in teen pregnancies

Teen pregnancies in Hamilton County, in Tennessee, in Georgia and in the United States are on the decline. That's a sure sign that young people of all races and ethnic backgrounds are hearing and heeding messages about contraception and abstinence. There's no assurance, however, that the trend will continue. Therefore, the programs and policies that have led to the decrease must be maintained and strengthened.

The trends, for the moment, are positive. A new report from the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks pregnancy and related data, indicates that U.S. teen pregnancy rates are at their lowest since 1972 and that they have declined by 42 percent since 1990, the year pregnancies in the demographic group were at their highest. That's not the only important -- and positive -- statistic cited by the institute.

The national teen abortion rate in 2008 -- the last year for which figures are available -- dropped to its lowest rate since 1972. That's a decline of 59 percent in the teen abortion rate from 1988, the peak year for the procedure. Continued decreases in the teen pregnancy rate, then, are likely to be mirrored by a similar decline in the teen abortion rate. That's a goal that everyone -- regardless of personal or political belief -- can embrace.

Reports from other national agencies and groups affirm that teen pregnancy rates in almost every state and most locales are falling as well. State health departments confirm similar declines. So does information from more local agencies actively engaged in the effort to prevent teen pregnancy.

Julie Baumgardner, president and executive director of First Things First in Chattanooga, says that "since 1997, there's been a 44 percent decline in out-of-wedlock pregnancies for teens aged 10-17" here. The importance of such declines can not be understated.

The price of teen pregnancy -- especially for mothers -- is terribly high for individuals and for society. Teen mothers are more likely than their peers to leave high school without graduating. Only a handful -- less than 2 percent by one count -- ever obtain a college degree. About a fourth are on welfare rolls within three years of giving birth. Their kids are more likely to grow up in poverty and then to repeat the pregnancy-poverty cycle later in life.

Mothers bear much of the cost of teen pregnancy. The reason is simple. According to an Urban Institute study, only about 20 percent of fathers involved in a teen pregnancy marry the mothers. Taxpayers, of course, are on the hook. They ultimately absorb the short and long-term costs of supporting many teen parents and their children.

Whatever one's beliefs about sex and sex education, most people can agree that adults as a rule are better prepared for parenthood than teens. If that's the case, there should be agreement, as well, that all programs -- whether based on abstinence or contraceptives and protected sex -- that have helped reduce teen pregnancy rates in the last few years deserve continued support. The programs benefit individuals and society. There's no need to change a formula that produces proven results.

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