Well! Imagine that! The overall rate of teenage pregnancy has fallen by six percent, but the decline is due to comprehensive sex-ed and access to contraceptives in blue states, while the rate is still climbing in red states that are still peddling abstinence-only sex-ed and trying their damnedest to make sure no woman, especially teenagers, have access birth control and reproductive health services.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the birth rate among young women ages 15 to 19 fell 6 percent last year, to 29.4 births per thousand, the lowest rate in the 73 years the government has been collecting the data. The decline was across all racial and ethnic groups.
The 2012 number is “a considerable one year drop,” says pediatrician Dr. John Santelli, a professor of population and family health at Columbia University who has no connection to the study. And it follows fairly sizable declines since 2007, when the rate was 41.5 births per thousand young women ages 15 to 19. In fact, except for a small uptick between 2005 and 2007, the teen birth rate has been steadily declining since 1991, when it reached 61.8 births per thousand.
“Our data comes from the birth certificate that parents complete at the hospital and it provides a wealth of information,” says Brady E. Hamilton, a statistician with the National Center for Health Statistics and the lead author of the report. But to figure out why the teen birth rate is falling, “we have to rely on other sources,” Hamilton says, such as surveys that the CDC conducts of high schoolers.
Santelli has studied those and other survey results. “There is not much evidence of a change in abortion use and not much change in sexual activity” since 2003, says Santelli. For example, the percentage of high school kids reporting ever having sexual intercourse was about 54 percent in 1991, according to the CDC survey, declined through 2002, and then held steady at about 47 percent through 2011, the last year of available data.
“What we have seen is greater availability of much more effective birth control methods,” says Santelli.
I live in a conservative, now-“red” state, but it wasn’t an asylum that had been taken over by the inmates when I was a teenager. Instead of wingnut, abstinence-only myths, I got health class my Sophomore year of high school, in a small public school district in Missouri, and we got comprehensive sex ed as part of that health class, and because I got that comprehensive sex ed, I was on the pill for at least six months before I ever had sex.
If you choose your words wisely and don’t offend or act judgmental, you can ask pretty much any woman between the ages of 40 and 50 if she has any experience with Planned Parenthood and find out that yes, indeed, she does, if not first hand then through a friend or family member, and the story is frequently moving.
Mine is not so much moving as it is/should be the-day-ends-in-y ordinary.
In my case it was the reality that if Jimmy Ray and I had not been caught by Randall’s dad — who happened to be a real live Deputy Sheriff — I could have very easily become a data point. Per Gene’s instructions, JR took me straight home and when I got to my room I checked my calendar, and freaked out. My last period had been exactly two weeks before. I could very well have been the girl who gets pregnant the very first time.
On the following Monday afternoon I skipped track practice and went to the phone booth on the square and called the Planned Parenthood clinic in Trenton to ask where they were holding remote clinics that week. I found out I could go to Gallatin on Wednesday evening, where they would be doing a clinic in the basement of the Methodist church. That was perfect. Gallatin was the county seat of Davies County, and I lived in a little town in Harrison County, up by the Iowa line. It was far enough away that I wasn’t likely to see anyone I knew.
Gallatin had a population of about 3000 at that time, and the basement was full of women, from young girls like us who didn’t want to be moms so young to other girls our age or just a year or two older who had a baby already or were there for prenatal care, to farmers wives in their thirties to a couple of older, post-menopausal ladies who were there for their yearly pap smear. And of course there were no less than three girls I had played softball or basketball against that school year, but we pretty much all decided simultaneously that the pamphlets about contraceptives and self breast exams that they gave us when we checked in amounted to the most interesting things we had ever read. We would see one another at a regional track meet in three weeks, but no one said anything. We just quietly waited our turn, and one by one we went into the Sunday School classroom that was doubling as an exam room and got our first comprehensive gynecological exam.
I had arrived late, and as it was first-come-first-serve, it was midnight before I got home and carried a brown paper bag with six months of Ortho-Novum birth control pills into my bedroom and stashed them in the stem of a green mushroom that held body powder and a powder puff on top of my dresser. They stacked neatly in the hollow stem, under the tray that held the powder, and still left room for my weed stash.
Since they had taken no money from me for the exam and six months of contraception, I remember mailing a $20 check to Planned Parenthood. The bank didn’t think anything of it — they had been processing checks to Amnesty International and NOW and Peace Now over a year — about as long as the postmaster had been putting copies of Rolling Stone and Ms. and The Progressive in my grandmother’s post office box. That whole town knew I was going to be left of center by the time I was fifteen, a check to Planned Parenthood didn’t ring any bells and ruin my reputation. (I was intent on doing that all by myself and doing it up right and real, not just suffering the slings and arrows of speculation, rumors and innuendo.)
I would take three or four months of those birth control pills before they did anything besides make my period light and regular, but eventually they would serve another purpose.
And because they did, I graduated high school, went on to college, met my husband and when the time was right for us, we got married and we had and raised three wonderful children.
And when they were around the age I was when I turned to Planned Parenthood for contraception and family planning services, I made sure that they, and all their friends, knew what Planned Parenthood is, what services they provide and where they were located.
And because Planned Parenthood was there for me and my friends, we all had children when we were ready and not before. In fact, there was a long stretch of about eight years where, to the best of my knowledge, there was only one teenage pregnancy, a girl a couple of years older than me — and she came to Kansas City, went to Planned Parenthood, and had an abortion.