Thursday, December 06, 2007

Are Teen Births Rising?

That chart comes via the Washington Post from a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. It tells us that for the first time in 14 years, there was an increase in the rates of teenage births to 41.9 births per 1000 teen women aged 15 - 19, up from 40.5 in 2005.

What the stories and the headlines don't tell you is that is approximately the same rate as 2004 and lower than it was in 2003. They also don't highlight that the birth rate was up for every age cohort of women.

So, what does this mean? Well, it may mean that after 14 years of going steadily down, indeed progress on teenage pregnancy prevention has stalled. That wouldn't surprise me because of the proliferation of abstinence-only messages that don't include contraception and because of laws that make abortions harder to get for teenagers. Indeed, it's been hard to understand how the birth rate has gone down since about 2000 because of these trends.

It's also possible that this is a one year uptick that's just an aberration in these trends, and that the teen birth rate will continue to fall or level off.

Either way, what it does mean is that we need to continue to do a better job as a culture helping teenagers avoid pregnancy. The U.S. continues to have the highest teen birth rate in the developed world. Our teenagers need their parents to educate them about sexuality; our faith communities must address adolescent sexuality; our schools must provide comprehensive sexuality education; sexually active teens must have access to reproductive health services. That's what happens in other countries that have a teen birth rate much lower than our's...that's what we need to do here.

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