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Teen Pregnancies and Abortions Swell: What Do You Think Is The Cause?

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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."

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Clearly ignorance isn't bliss. But the prevalence of abstinence only approaches to sex isn't the only problem facing girls today although it's related to the underlying issue. I think the biggest problem is America's unhealthy and unrealistic relationship with sex. The combination of inadequate responsible, comprehensive sex education and hypersexualized media representations of women is a recipe for disaster. We need to emulate our Canadian and Western European colleagues who have much lower teen pregnancy rates while providing teens with much healthier attitudes about sex along with greater access to honest and comprehensive sex education.

January 30, 2010 - 9:08pm


I can only answer based on what I see on EmpowHER, but the questions we get from teenage girls (and sometimes twentysomethings as well) are often troubling. Just the number of them who don't know how they will and won't get pregnant are astonishing. They are filled with angst and misinformation that they've gotten from their friends. Many times, the first thing we need to do with one of these girls is to calm them down; the second thing is to correct the bad information they've gotten.

We've had questions from girls who've missed three periods and wonder if they're pregnant; we've also had questions from girls who had oral sex only and wonder if they could be pregnant. Or whether they can get pregnant if both they and their partner are fully clothed. Or wonder if they should be using some form of birth control because they've beens sexually active for months.

I can only surmise that these girls are NOT getting the right information anywhere -- neither home nor school. Aside from the moral arguments for and against abstinence and sex education, it just seems to me that there's a lot less practical information out there for adolescents and young adults than there used to be. And that just can't be a good thing.

January 28, 2010 - 8:42am
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