After a decade of steady decline, U.S. teen pregnancies are up 3 percent. Multiple reasons have been cited and are being debated. Arguments over the pros and cons of abstinence-only education are just the beginning.
The numbers are from 2006, the most recent year in which figures are available, and reflect increases in teen birth and abortion rates of 4 percent and 1 percent, respectively. This marks the first increase in more than a decade and reverses a downward trend that started in the 1990’s, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit group that studies reproductive and sexual health.
New Mexico led the states with the highest teenage pregnancy rate of 9 percent, followed by Nevada, Arizona, Texas and Mississippi. New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, Minnesota and North Dakota had the lowest rates of teen pregnancies.
A primary reason given for the increase by the Guttmacher Institute was less effective use of contraceptives by sexually active teens. Lawrence Finer, PhD and Guttmacher Director of Domestic Research, told WebMD that sexual activity is not up. "We have not seen too many changes in sexual activity. That is not driving the trends," he said. "In the '90s, most of the decline in teen pregnancy was due to improved contraceptive use, and some to decline in sexual activity. But that decline has plateaued -- teen pregnancy is up."
Abstinence-only programs were also cited as a contributor. “After more than a decade of progress, this reversal is deeply troubling,” said Heather Boonstra, Guttmacher Institute Senior Public Policy Associate. “It coincides with an increase in rigid abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which received major funding boosts under the Bush administration. A strong body of research shows that these programs do not work.”
Cecil Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said, “This new study makes it crystal clear that abstinence-only sex education for teenagers does not work, and it should serve as a wake-up call to anyone who still believes that teenagers aren’t sexually active or that abstinence-only programs curb the rate of teen pregnancy."