Teen Pregnancy, Abortion Rates Down: Birthrates Also Drop as More Adolescents Recognize Rigors of Parenthood

Article excerpt

New data show teen pregnancies, abortions and births have all fallen significantly in recent years, indicating more teens agree that it's not good to become a parent at a young age.

"Communities and parents all across America have joined with us to help our young people understand that they should delay parenthood until they are truly ready to nurture and support a child of their own," says Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala, who released birth data for 1997 today.

The data found that in 1997, 52.3 births occurred for every 1,000 teens aged 15 to 19. That's a 16 percent drop from 1991, when teen births were at their most recent peak, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

Policy-makers note that if the declines continue apace, the teen birthrate will soon sink to the lowest in half a century, which is the 1986 rate of 50.2 births per 1,000 teens.

All states and the District of Columbia reduced their rates of teen births, the NCHS says. The District, however, continues to lead the nation in teen pregnancies, births and abortions, according to data released today by the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI).

The D.C. pregnancy rate of 256 pregnancies per 1,000 teens aged 15 to 19 in 1996 is nearly twice that of Nevada, the state with the highest pregnancy rate, said AGI, the research arm of Planned Parenthood.

Maryland and Virginia have relatively high teen abortion rates but rank near the middle of the nation in teen birthrates, AGI said in its state-by-state analysis.

Maryland's pregnancy rate is one of the country's highest, with 106 pregnancies per 1,000 teens, while Virginia has 86 pregnancies per 1,000 teens.

Analysts have attributed the declines in teen births to a wide range of influences, such as improved use of contraceptives, more sexual abstinence and fear of getting AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

A third report, also released today by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, found that U.S. teens were more concerned about getting an STD than about getting pregnant.

Most teens believe "teen pregnancy is something that can be prevented and should be avoided at their ages," said the campaign's report, "What About the Teens?" based on interviews with 111 teen-agers in four cities.

The AGI report - which calculates pregnancies by combining data on births and abortions and estimates of miscarriages and stillbirths - said that teen pregnancy peaked in 1990, when there were more than 1 million pregnancies and 117.1 pregnancies per 1,000 girls aged 15-19.

By 1996, the number of teen pregnancies had dropped to 880,000 and the pregnancy rate dropped 17 percent, to 97.3 pregnancies per 1,000 girls.

About 20 percent of the decline in teen pregnancies is due to "decreased sexual activity," said Jacqueline Darroch, the AGI vice president for research.

The rest of the decline "is because of more effective contraceptive practice," Ms. Darroch said, noting that "many sexually active teen-agers are using the highly effective contraceptive implant, Norplant, and injectable Depo-Provera, which only became available in the 1990s."

The AGI report also found that teen abortion rates fell for the eighth year in a row, dropping from 43.5 abortions per 1,000 teens in 1988 to 29.2 abortions per 1,000 teens in 1996.

Abortion remains an especially likely outcome for teens in the District, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York, said AGI. At least 50 out of 100 pregnant teens in these areas obtained an abortion, and New Jersey had the highest abortion ratio - 58 out of 100 pregnant New Jersey teens.

Locally, Maryland has one of the highest abortion rates in the nation, with 46 abortions per 1,000 teens. Virginia's rate is also fairly high at 30 abortions per 1,000 teens. …