Teen mom: fewer teenagers pregnant as trend continues downward

Since 1991, the rate at which teenage girls, ages 15-19, have gotten pregnant has decreased year after year. From 62 births per 1,000 girls the average is now two births per 1,000 girls. (Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Through a collective effort comprised of birth control options, abstinence, knowledge and choices, society has succeeded in significantly reducing the amount of teen pregnancies and births over the past 27 years.

Nationally and locally, statistics show thousands of teenage girls are no longer being sidelined from unexpectedly becoming pregnant during some of the most crucial years of their lives.

Nationally, the rate for which girls ages 15-19 give birth has declined 64 percent since 1991, with averages equaling two births per 1,000 girls — down from 62 births per 1,000 girls at the dawn of the ‘90s.

Hand-in-hand with a decrease in teen pregnancy: fewer abortions, less tax payer money going to assisting unexpected pregnancies and fewer women finding themselves marooned within the economic ladder, experts say.

In Arizona, across all demographics, numbers show the teen birth rate decreases every year.

Some female reproduction officials, however, say potential changes in federal funding could put the teen birth rate at danger for rising again.

During the time period MTV captured young audiences with its reality programs, “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom,” and fictional teen mom character Juno MacGuff chronicled her teenage pregnancy in hit film “Juno,” changes were happening at the local level to ensure story lines on screen weren’t mirrored in real life.

The teen pregnancy rate has also fallen by 63 percent between 1988 and 2013. In 2016 there were a reported 5,357 births to teenage girls.
Officials say that the public savings in 2015 due to declines in the teen birth rate totaled $152 million.

There isn’t one specific reason for these decreases, experts say, as a variety of factors are contributing to less teenagers becoming pregnant and giving birth.

In Scottsdale, public school districts and one private Catholic school say they teach sex education in various ways in their schools.
Accurate healthcare taught in schools and available to teenagers is one key to the steady decrease, as well as a full range of contraception options.

“This will only continue if we remain committed to ensuring women of all ages have access to the full range of contraception options and quality sexual health information so that they can better decide if, when and under what circumstances to get pregnant,” says Jennifer Johnsen, senior director of digital properties and marketing for Power to Decide.

“But, there are efforts to undermine programs we know work, which include rolling back the federal contraceptive coverage provision that allows women to access methods of contraception through their insurance without out-of-pocket costs; and attacks on the Title X family planning program which would disproportionately impact women of low income.”

Ms. Johnsen says Power to Decide is a national, non-partisan organization that works to ensure all women have the power to decide if, when and under what circumstances to get pregnant.

Through organizations like Power to Decide, information on myriad choices ranging from abstinence, contraceptives, and pregnancy options teenage girls are faced with is available.

“Power to Decide believes that all people should have the opportunity to pursue the future they want, realize their full possibilities, and follow their intentions,” she said. “We provide objective, evidence-based information about sexual health and contraceptive options, and we work to guarantee equitable access to and information about the full range of contraceptive methods.”

Sex ed curriculum taught in Scottsdale

Local districts, Paradise Valley Unified School District and Cave Creek Unified School District both have a sexual education program that puts the emphasis on abstinence, but in some cases alters information on contraceptives or assistance and support if a student where to become pregnant.

PVSchools has a human growth and development abstinence-based curriculum that begins in fourth through 10th grade, Dr. Dan Courson assistant superintendent of curriculum, and instruction, and lead nurse Karen Reuter say.

CCUSD Director of Curriculum and Instruction Cara Herkamp says their district teaches a human growth and development opt-in/opt-out program in fourth through eighth grade, which parents must opt-in for students to participate. Additionally, a health class at Cactus Shadows High School in ninth grade is offered, which focuses on abstinence and scientific information is provided on both hygiene and puberty.

“Our curriculum has a main message focused on abstinence as the only 100 percent means of avoiding pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted diseases,” Ms. Herkamp said.

“The curriculum also shares methods of birth control should students become sexually active.”

PVSchools officials say they have an abstinence-based curriculum.

“Regarding birth control, students are referred to their parent or physician to assist them with their decision-making,” Dr. Courson and Ms. Reuter said.

“Paradise Valley School District’s comprehensive Human Growth and Development curriculum was developed through a district committee that included school personnel, parents, clergy and a pediatrician. We believe this collaborative partnership is critical in ensuring students receiving information important to their wellbeing.”

If a student is to become pregnant, options are available, Ms. Reuter and Dr. Courson say.

“Each of our schools works closely with pregnant young woman and families to ensure that students continue their education,” they said.

“Continuing in the regular school setting, taking online coursework or attending an alternative community school with flexible scheduling are available options to our students depending on their needs.”

CCUSD says they employ two nurses, a prevention coach, a social worker and counselors to assist students and provide support to their students should they become pregnant.

Scottsdale-based catholic high school, Notre Dame Preparatory, teaches students about human sexuality in theology class during their junior year.

“We teach the topic in a holistic way,” said Father Kurt Perera, chaplain of NDP.

“Not only addressing the act but also the emotional bonds it creates and how it affects the teens spiritually and psychologically. We also emphasize the virtue of chastity. Sometimes people perceive chastity as no sex, but what it really is, is the right ordering of our sexual desires according to the demands of true love and one’s state in life.”

Mr. Perera says NDP is unapologetically Catholic in its teaching, and wishes to protect students’ dignity.

“We care about the entire person, mind, body and soul,” he said. “That being said, there is no such thing as safe sex. Sex outside of marriage, especially at a young age, harms the mind, body and soul of the individuals involved.”

Mr. Perera says in his two years at NDP they haven’t had any girls become pregnant. If a student were to become pregnant, he says the school would offer support to the young woman.

“We value the dignity of all life and we would offer support to the young woman to value her life and the life within her,” he said.

“We would accommodate her educational needs and support and love her and her child. We understand that no one is perfect and sometimes we fall short of God’s plan for us, but there is always redemption, mercy and grace. We have a behavioral health specialist, counselors and campus ministers to help with the emotional and spiritual needs of our students.”

Locally, the state law requires medically accurate information, promotes abstinence and doesn’t allow for promotion of homosexuality.

Arizona Revised Statutes Title 15-716 outlines guidelines on instruction for AIDS and HIV, which includes:

  • School districts may provide instruction to kindergarten programs through 12th grade on AIDS and HIV;
  • Each district is free to develop its own course of study for each grade. At a minimum, instruction shall be appropriate to the grade level, medically accurate, promote abstinence, discourage drug use and dis-spell myths regarding transmission of HIV;
  • No district shall include in its course of study instruction which promotes a homosexual life-style; portrays homosexuality as a positive alternative life-style; or suggests that some methods of sex are safe methods of homosexual sex.

(Independent Newsmedia/Arianna Grainey)

Knowledge is crucial

At the Power to Decide organization, Ms. Johnsen says access to relevant fact-based sexual health information and access to the full range of contraception options are critical.

Ms. Johnsen points to a combination of access to birth control and quality sexual education as reason for the 67 percent decline in the teen birth rate since 1991 in the U.S.

“They make it easier for all women to live life on their own terms, allowing them to pursue their education, achieve career goals and have healthy babies when and if they want to,” Ms. Johnsen says.

“There are few things that are more important to a woman’s health than their reproductive well-being. And there is nothing that has helped revolutionize women’s reproductive well-being — and health more generally — than birth control. That is why we need to ensure all woman have the basic health care they deserve — which includes contraceptive services and support.”

According to data provided by Power to Decide, 51 percent of Arizona women described their pregnancy as unplanned, and in 2010 public spending for unplanned pregnancies in-state totaled an estimated $671 million.

“It signifies progress and increased opportunities and more empowered young women,” Ms. Johnsen said. “It also should be a reminder of the power of education and health care access, and a call to all of us to continue to fight for them. It’s important to remember that progress is not victory and rates could slip right back if we as a society stop investing in vital programs.”

Planned Parenthood has more than 85 years of history in the state of Arizona, and 102 years of history nationally in womens reproductive healthcare.

Spokesperson Tayler Tucker says Planned Parenthood is a not for profit, the largest provider of sex education and sexual and reproductive healthcare nationally and in the state of Arizona.

“In the most layman’s terms people get sex ed but when we’re talking about sex ed we’re talking about comprehensive and inclusive sex ed,” Ms. Tucker explained.

“That means sex ed that is medically accurate, and goes beyond covering what people would think are the nuts and bolts, or birds and bees, and goes further to talk about consent and healthy relationships, as well as being as inclusive as we can be.”

Ms. Tucker points to schools who have teachers, that are experts in other professional areas but not sexual education, teaching the information as one example of how medically inaccurate information could be taught.

Ms. Tucker says while abstinence-only education isn’t medically inaccurate, it’s considered a part of the comprehensive sex ed curriculum,

“It’s logically inaccurate that people are just going to be abstinent their entire lives, until these certain situations come about,” she noted.

The decline in teen pregnancy and teen birth rates doesn’t have a single causation, Ms. Tucker says, but it seems to correlate to access to birth control and medically accurate sex ed.

“Those two things together are part of the combination that allows young people and teens to be able to think, prepare for their lives and be able to achieve whatever their dreams are and not have an unintended pregnancy that may change that path,” Ms. Tucker said.

“We know that if a teen becomes pregnant while in high school the decreasing chance of being able to graduate, matriculate and then go on to college is huge. Women that tend to have children in their late 20s and 30s, post college, post high school, prior to all of those educational experiences end up being able to be mobile within the economic ladder. But more and more, we’re seeing that if people are not able to graduate high school because of a pregnancy, then it’s harder to get to college and the chances go lower, and those people are stuck in a space where they are economically immobile.”

Real life consequences

At 19 years old, Brittany Anderson became pregnant and chose to get an abortion.

“I chose to get an abortion because I was completely incapable of being a parent at that point in my life,” Ms. Anderson said. “I was failing out of college, barely making any money, was in a terrible and abusive relationship, and my drug and alcohol use was getting out of control. It would have been insanely selfish of me to bring a child into that type of environment.”

Ms. Anderson says at the age of 19, she wasn’t being responsible with her form of contraception, noting that she knows her actions were reckless. And, while adoption was also an option, it wasn’t what she wanted.

“If you’re going to partake in adult behaviors, you need to act like an adult,” she said. “This means not being careless, reckless, and irresponsible with something as serious as sex. There are real consequences that could come out of that one slip up. Pausing and thinking through a decision will make such a huge difference in your life.”

Ms. Anderson says years later, she feels at peace with her choice. She has been clean and sober for over four years, and graduated from Arizona State University.

“I haven’t had a second in my life where I regretted my decision,” she said. “Everyone’s journey is different and every woman should have the choice to decide what her life is going to look like. I know that in my soul, I made the right decision for myself. My life today looks immensely different than it did when I was 19.”

Nuts and bolts, birds and bees

In the Phoenix metropolitan area, Planned Parenthood consolidated a lot of its centers, utilizing a few larger facilities. A Scottsdale location was closed a few years ago and services were moved to another location, Ms. Tucker said.

“In Arizona, even though we’re this red state or we’re seen this way, most parents want — close to eight out of 10 parents want — sex ed to be medically accurate in schools for the young people that they guide and are raising,” she explained.

“Arizona does not mandate sex ed, and prefer that it is taught to be abstinence only.”

Title X — a $260 million federal program for contraception and other services — is the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services. Ms. Tucker says, for example, the federal grant can help women without insurance, or teens who don’t want to use their parents’ insurance plans, to obtain birth control and preventative care services. Mentions of birth control, with a stress on abstinence-only teachings, is being proposed at the federal level.

Teen prevention program grants are at risk with the proposed changes, Ms. Tucker says.

“We could see this lose a lot of its progress right now because of what is happening in terms of these illogical and harmful attacks on this form of care,” she said, referring to the steady decline in teen pregnancies achieved.

“We’re anticipating, especially if a lot of these things go through, which it’s looking like they might, that we will see once again a spike in teen pregnancies and once again unintended pregnancy means more abortions.”

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

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