Teen Births and Abortions Are Up

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Teen pregnancy and abortion rates are on the rise, according to a new report, but it’s hard to know exactly why.

The Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights and sexual and reproductive health, released data that show the nation’s teen pregnancy rate rose 3 percent in 2006, reversing a decade-long decline. The figure combines a 4 percent teen birth and a 1 percent abortion increase.

Lawrence Finer, the institute’s director of domestic research, said in a statement that “it is too soon to tell whether the increase in the teen pregnancy rate between 2005 and 2006 is a short term fluctuation, a more lasting stabilization or the beginning of a significant new trend, any of which would be of great concern.”

The institute was quick to say the rise in the teen birth rate – in 2006, the data show, 7 percent of teen girls became pregnant – correlates with a spike in federal funding for abstinence-only education starting in the early 2000s. It said it predicted teen pregnancy rates would go up when the nation turned away from what the institute considers more effective programs that discuss contraceptive use and other health issues in the context of teen pregnancy prevention.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), however, says on its website that the “causes for this increase are not yet known, but bear concern due to the potential increase in the socioeconomic burden of teen pregnancy and childbearing.”

The notion that abstinence-only is the cause of the increase is also disputed by the National Abstinence Education Association, which touts a 2008 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) showing the federal abstinence education spending has dwarfed that of pregnancy prevention and family planning services that supporters of comprehensive sex education tend to favor.

The Obama administration recently signaled that it’s coming down on the side of those who favor more than just an abstinence-only approach by supporting a new $110 million program for research-based teen pregnancy prevention programs and allowing a $50 million federal abstinence-only grant program to expire. 

The CDC, where Guttmacher gets much of its report data, confirmed on its website that after a steady drop from 1991 to 2005, birth rates for 15- to19-year-olds went up “significantly” in 2006 in 26 states from all regions of the country. This was not the case for younger teens, aged 10 to 14 years, for whom there was a slight decline in birth rates during the 2005-06 period.

The rise in the number of births among 15- to 19-year-olds, from 414,593 in 2005 to 435,436 in 2006, was the largest increase in a single year since the period of 1989 and 1990, CDC said.

The Guttmacher report added that the uptick in teen pregnancy rates spanned all racial and ethnic groups, and that black and Hispanic teens now have virtually the same numbers of births. States with the highest pregnancy rates include New Mexico and Nevada; those with the lowest include New Hampshire and Vermont.