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Drop in Teen Pregnancy Due to Birth Control

by Daniel J. DeNoon

There’s good news from researchers at the Guttmacher Institute. “Only” 7% of teens and “only” about 16% of sexually experienced teens got pregnant in 2008, the most recent year for which data is available.

It’s good news because the U.S. teen pregnancy rate continues to drop. Way back in 1990, the teen pregnancy rate peaked at 116.9 pregnancies per 1,000 teen females. That means 11.7% of all teens got pregnant that year.

Among sexually experienced teens — those who ever had intercourse — 22.3% got pregnant in 1990.

The teen birth rate and the teen abortion rate also went down:

  • 4% of teens gave birth in 2008, down from the 1991 peak of 6.2%.
  • 1.8% of teens had an abortion in 2008 — the lowest abortion rate since abortion was legalized and down from the 1988 peak of 4.35% in 1988.
  • From 1986 to 2008, the proportion of teen pregnancies ending in abortion dropped by a third, from 46% to 31%.

Why is the teen pregnancy rate dropping? According to a 2007 study, it’s mainly due to better use of birth control. Teens are using more effective forms of contraception. Many are using two forms of birth control — most likely male condoms combined with a female contraceptive.

The study found that for 18- and 19-year-olds, the drop in the pregnancy rate from 1995 and 2002 was almost entirely due to increased use of birth control. For teens age 15 to 17, about three-fourths of the decline in pregnancy was due to increased contraceptive use. One-fourth was due to reduced sexual activity.

Teen pregnancy rates have declined for all racial and ethnic groups. But black and Hispanic teens still lag behind:
• The abortion rate for black teens is four times the rate for white teens.
• The abortion rate for Hispanic teens is twice the rate for non-Hispanic white teens.
• The birth rate for black and Hispanic teens was over twice the rate for non-Hispanic white teens.

“Teens appear to be making the decision to be more effective contraceptive users, and their actions are paying off in lower pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates,” the Guttmacher Institute suggests in a news release.

More research is needed to identify the complex factors behind these disparities in teen pregnancy and its outcomes. But common sense suggests that access to sex education and to effective contraceptives must play a part.

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