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U.S. teen pregnancy, birth and abortion rates hit record lows in 2010, report says

Published: Saturday, May 10 2014 4:05 a.m. MDT

High school students laugh Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012, during a humorous observation by Gov. Phil Bryant at the First Annual Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Summit in Jackson, Mississippi.

Rogelio V. Solis, Associated Press

Fewer teenagers are getting pregnant, having babies or seeking abortions, according to a new national report that says rates of all three are at historic lows.

The report by the Guttmacher Institute looks at 2010, the most recent year for which numbers are available. It says that there were 614,000 pregnancies among teenage females 15-19, or 57.4 per 1,000. That's a 51 percent drop from the 1990 peak and a 15 percent decline from 2008.

The teen birthrate peaked in 1991 and has dropped 44 percent since that peak, from 61.8 births per 1,000 to 34.4.

Abortions have fallen most of all, down 66 percent from the 1988 peak of 43.5 per 1,000 to 2010's 14.7 per 1,000.

This means that clearly, the birthrate is not down just because more teens are having abortions, said Bill Albert, a spokesman for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

"We do know that men and women of goodwill in this country disagree passionately about abortion," said Albert. "But all those concerned about abortion should be applauding this news. Fewer teens are getting pregnant in the first place."

"Both births and abortions are going down," said Kathryn Kost, a Guttmacher senior research associate who co-wrote the report.

Differing views, mutual celebration

Groups and individuals with very different perspectives on the issues are celebrating the findings, although they credit different factors for the result.

Kost believes the needle moved because of continuing focus on sex education programs and access to contraceptive services for teens. Teens are more effectively using contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies, she said.

Albert believes teens are making better choices across a spectrum. "I think we adults are simply reluctant to give credit where credit is due. Teenagers themselves are clearly making better decisions."

When adults are surveyed, almost half say incorrectly they believe teen pregnancies are on the rise. They "think teen culture and culture in general are heading south and teenagers are leading the charge. They are unwilling to believe, particularly when it comes to sex, that teenagers are making better decisions," Albert said. It's a combination of less sex and better contraception, he added.

"It's encouraging, but not necessarily surprising," Randall K. O'Bannon, director of education and research for the National Right to Life Educational Trust Fund, told the Deseret News. "The fact that there are still babies that die from abortion in the United States, whether from teens or from older people — that's bad. We don't want any innocent lives to die. The fact that there are fewer of them is obviously good news."

O'Bannon said the fact that abortion rates have dropped more than teen birthrates or teen pregnancy rates is an "indication something is happening in behaviors and attitudes specifically toward abortion."

O'Bannon referred to a blog on the topic, in which he also credited laws that mandate parental involvement, waiting periods and informed consent, as well as crisis pregnancy centers and technologies like ultrasound that show "the humanity of the unborn" for reducing the number of abortions among teens.

Consequences of teen pregnancy

The Guttmacher analysis also said teens are waiting longer to have sex than in the recent past. "In 2006-2008, some 11 percent of never-married females aged 15-19 and 14 percent of never-married males in that age group had had sex before age 15, compared with 19 percent and 21 percent respectively in 1995."

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