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Teen Pregnancy Rate Plunges Thanks To Birth Control, Comprehensive Sex Ed



Pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates among U.S. teenagers continue to plunge to record lows, according to a new report. These findings confirm an encouraging trend that researchers have been tracking for the past two decades. The latest evidence on the trend comes from researchers at the Guttmacher Institute, who found that much of the drop is due to the fact that teens are making responsible choices and practicing safe sex.

Pregnancies among teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19 have dropped by 15 percent in just two years. The recent decline has contributed to more than a 50 percent drop since the teen pregnancy rate peaked in 1990. Birth rates and abortion rates have experienced similarly steep declines over the past several years:


The declines were seen across racial and ethnic groups, declining 56% among white teenagers (from 86.6 to 37.8 per 1,000), 56% among black teenagers (from 223.8 to 99.5 per 1,000) and 51% among Latino teenagers (from 169.7 to 83.5 per 1,000).

Still, even as teen pregnancy rates were going down across the United States, progress from state to state was uneven. New Mexico had the highest rate, with 80 pregnancies per 1,000, followed by Mississippi, Texas, and Arkansas. New Hampshire had the lowest teen pregnancy rate, with 28 per 1,000.

While pregnancy rates dropped among older teens, more reported having sex, which the study authors said suggested improved contraceptive use and use of more effective methods.

“Other reports had already demonstrated sustained declines in births among teens in the past few years,” study leader Kathryn Kost said in a statement. “But now we know that this is due to the fact that fewer teens are becoming pregnant in the first place. It appears that efforts to ensure teens can access the information and contraceptive services they need to prevent unwanted pregnancies are paying off.”

Guttmacher’s findings align with recent research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which found that the teen pregnancy and abortion rates had dropped to new historic lows in 2009. The CDC researchers concluded that the primary factor driving this trend is that more teens are now successfully preventing pregnancy by using contraception. Guttmacher’s latest report underscores that point, finding that more teens between the ages of 18 and 19 are now having sex, but fewer of them are becoming pregnant.

“The good news is that we know what works to prevent teen pregnancy. Sex education works. Ensuring that teens have access to birth control works,” Leslie Kantor, Planned Parenthood’s vice president of education, added. “When young people have accurate information and resources, they make responsible decisions.”

These findings undermine conservative rhetoric that considers teen pregnancy evidence of a moral crisis driven by irresponsible teens having sex outside of marriage. But for decades it’s been clear that Republican policies not only fail to reduce the rate of teen pregnancy, but actually increase it by substantial margins. Consider this: of the four states with the highest teen pregnancy rates, three of them — Mississippi, Texas, and Arkansas — have no requirement for providing sex education in public schools. The only mandate they do have requires that if/when sex education is taught, it must be an abstinence-based program.

To make matters even worse, Republicans are trying to further reduce teens’ access to contraception, comprehensive sex education, and other crucial pregnancy prevention services. After House Republicans failed in back-to-back efforts to defund Planned Parenthood nationwide and slash funding for teen-pregnancy prevention programs and other Title X-funded family planning programs, GOP lawmakers switched tactics and started launching new attacks at the state level.  Since 2010, nine states have tried to dramatically cut family planning funds; Montana, New Hampshire, and New Jersey have slashed their family planning budgets by more than half. Seven have made it harder for clinics like Planned Parenthood to receive state or federal family planning grants. And in a fit of anti-choice fervor, Texas Republicans cut $73 million in family planning funds from the state budget, seemingly hoping that young people would simply respond by cutting out all that sex that humans have been engaging in since the beginning of time. Not surprisingly, in 2011, the teen pregnancy rate in Texas increased while rates across the rest of the country were falling.

It’s clear that Republican policies aren’t effective. Equally clear is what is effective.

Research shows that well-designed and well-implemented sex education programs can decrease sexual risk behaviors among teens, including delaying sexual intercourse, increasing condom or contraceptive use, reducing the number of partners, and decreasing the frequency of unprotected sex. Contrary to Republicans’ claims, numerous studies have shown that giving teens access to information and services such as the HPV vaccine, contraception, and comprehensive sex education does not encourage teens to have sex — rather, it encourages teens to make better decisions about sexual activity.

Comprehensive sex education is supported by organizations like the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics — and by a majority of Americans, including the vast majority of both parents and teens.

When teens are armed with the knowledge to protect themselves — and when they have access to the health care services they need to do so — the evidence shows that they make responsible decisions. The credit for the good news from the Guttmacher Institute goes to teens themselves. In short, the magic formula of safer sex, more contraception, and informed decision-making is behind the historic declines in teen pregnancy.

Now it’s our job to make sure Republicans don’t mess it up.


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