In the United States, one in 10 pregnancies involves a teen with more than 80% of teen pregnancies being unintentional with a third of pregnant teenagers choosing abortion says Guttmacher Institute’s most recent report. U.S. pregnancy rates are higher than those of other developed economies. They are twice as high as in Canada or even eight times as high as in Japan or in Netherlands.
Every year, some 16 million girls 15 years to 19 years old give birth worldwide according to World Health Organization (WHO). Although the majority of births occur in developing countries with low or middle income, the United States is among the seven countries where half of all adolescence births take place.
Moreover, Guttmacher Institute’s most recent report shows that in the United States the birth rate for teens 15 to 19 years increased 3% in 2006 after 14-year continuous decline in the period from 1991 through 2005. If this is a short or long-term trend remains to be seen once the figures for 2007 and 2008 become available.
Though rates of adolescents childbearing declined in most countries in the last twenty years, the proportions of births that take place during adolescence are still rather high in a few other countries as well, 18% in the Caribbean and Latin America and more than 50% in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the proportion of births during adolescence in China is only 2% according to WHO estimates.
Out of all teen pregnancies, in the United States only 57% end in birth, 14% end in miscarriage and almost a third are terminated by abortion says Guttmacher Institute. It further states in its most recent report that in 2005 the highest teenage abortion rates in the United States were in New York (41 per 1000), New Jersey and Connecticut where more than half of teenage pregnancies ended in abortion. Nevada and Delaware had also very high teenage abortion rates.
The Division of Reproductive Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledged that the United States “could do much better in improving teen pregnancy and birth rates” taking into consideration that “U.S. teen pregnancy and teen birth rates are the second highest among 46 countries in the developed world.” The CDC also says that sexual behavior of U.S. teens is not any different than that of teens in other developed countries, the only difference being that the use of contraceptives is more likely among teens in other developed countries than among teens in the United States.
In other developed countries, contraceptives including condoms are readily available to teens at either very low cost or are free. Additional sexual education programs in schools as well as other public programs and media campaigns organized and promoted by governments substantially contribute to lower pregnancy rates.
In the United States, in contrast, according to the Guttmacher Institute, the 1990s decline in teen pregnancy rates “started to stall out in the early 2000s, at the same time that sex education programs aimed exclusively at promoting abstinence-and prohibited by law from discussing the benefits of contraception-became increasingly widespread and teens’ use of contraceptives declined…. “
Ever since Congress signed into law in 1996 the Personal Responsibility & Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act and added to the Title V of the Social Security Act a new program of grants to States for abstinence-only-until-marriage education, 50 states participated in the program.
According to Advocates for Youth, almost half a billion dollars were spent for these programs from 1998 to 2003 with few lasting results. Advocates are also claiming that the evaluations of the abstinence-only programs showed that none resulted in any significant change in sexual behavior among teens in the programs, or reduced their sexual risk-taking behaviors. Moreover, the abstinence-only programs left teens with no information how to protect themselves from HIV, sexually transmitted disease or pregnancy. Even worse, they made teens more ambivalent about contraception and less willing to use it.
In our quest to reduce teen abortion rates, can we reconcile our sexual education policy with the most recent findings of Guttmacher Institute that attributes the decline in U.S. pregnancy rates from 1995 to 2002 mainly to higher contraceptive use and to a lesser extent to reduced sexual activity?
More comprehensive sex education that includes besides abstinence promotion also more information about contraceptives and condoms may very well be also one of the ways to go.
Source: WHO, Guttmacher Institute (U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions), CDC, Advocates for Youth