27 January 2010

USA: New rise in teenage pregnancy rate

After more than a decade of declining teenage pregnancy, the rate among girls ages 15 to 19 increased 3 percent from 2005 to 2006, the Guttmacher Institute has found.

This development is likely to intensify the debate over federal financing for abstinence-only sex education, the New York Times reports.

The teenage abortion rate also crept up for the first time in more than a decade, rising 1 percent from 2005 to 2006, according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, which examined federal data on teenage sex, births and abortion, along with the institute’s own abortion statistics. While teenage pregnancy rates for whites remain far lower than for blacks and Hispanics, the pregnancy rates increased for all three groups.

As has been previously reported, births to young women ages 15 to 19 rose from 2005 to 2006, and again from 2006 to 2007. Since the teenage pregnancy rate is made up of births, abortions and miscarriages, it is likely that the teenage pregnancy rate rose from 2006 to 2007, as well, the New York Times suggests. But several experts said it was too soon to predict whether teenage pregnancy and birth rates would continue to rise, and revert to the record high levels of the 1980s and early 1990s.

While it is difficult to pinpoint precisely how different factors influence teenage sexual behaviour, some experts speculate that the rise in teenage pregnancy might be partly attributable to the $150 million a year of federal financing for sex education that emphasised abstinence until marriage, avoiding all mention of the possible benefits of contraception.

‘This new study makes it crystal clear that abstinence-only sex education for teenagers does not work,’ said Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The Clinton administration began financing abstinence-only programmes as part of welfare reform, but such programmes got a large boost in the Bush administration, the New York Times reports. The Obama administration has moved away from abstinence-only programmes, creating a new teenage-pregnancy initiative in which most financing will go to programmes that have been shown to prevent pregnancy, with some experimental approaches. Meanwhile, there are continuing efforts to reinstate financing for abstinence-only education as part of the health-reform legislation.

Lawrence Finer, director of domestic research for the Guttmacher Institute, said there was evidence that adolescent use of contraceptives had plateaued, or declined, adding that it was ‘an interesting coincidence’ that this had happened just as the focus on abstinence-only education had left fewer students getting comprehensive sex education.

Advocates of abstinence-only education, however, had a different view.

‘While this recent uptick is certainly disconcerting, it would be disingenuous to try to ascribe it abstinence education or any other single factor,’ said Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association. ‘The overly sex-saturated culture certainly plays a part, with teen sex communicated almost as an expected rite of passage, without consequences, and that’s a dangerous message for young people, who tend to be risk-takers anyway.’

According to the Guttmacher analysis, the teenage pregnancy rate declined 41 percent from its peak, in 1990, when there were 116.9 pregnancies per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19, and 2005, when there were only 69.5 per 1,000. In 2006, the rate rose to 71.5 pregnancies for 1,000 women. Teenage birth and abortion rates also declined in that period, with births dropping 35 percent from 1991 to 2005 and teenage abortion declining 56 percent between its peak, in 1988, and 2005.

After Long Decline, Teenage Pregnancy Rate Rises. New York Times, 26 January 2010