Utah's teenage pregnancy rate is 30 percent below the national average, although the live birth rate is higher, according to the findings of the Governor's Task Force on Teenage Pregnancy Prevention.
The report, still in draft form, says that the two seemingly contradictory facts are true because Utah has the lowest teenage abortion rate in the nation - about one-third the average. So even though the number of pregnancies is relatively low, a much larger proportion of children are born to these young parents.In 1976, there were 46 pregnancies per 1,000 in Utah among those 15-17 years old, but the rate has been declining since 1980. In 1986, there were 36 per 1,000. Abortions during that same time period have risen from 5.8 per 1,000 to 9.4 per 1,000 in 1986 for the same age group.
Besides social and economic problems, the issue of teenage pregnancy is of particular concern because the infants born to the young mothers have a much higher incidence of low birth weight and other health risks.
"There's a lot of difference between a relatively young pregnant teenager and an older one," said Dr. John C. Nelson, a task force member. "With a young kid, you see things like a bottle full of soda instead of milk. They sometimes don't know when they got pregnant, how they got pregnant, etc."
"With parents under 19, you get more injuries and more problems," said Dr. Kathleen McElligott, also on the task force. The study adds that teenage mothers are less likely to get prenatal care and more likely to require publicly funded health care.
One-third of all teenage mothers are unmarried, a number that has steadily increased since the late '70s. Utah's proportion is less than the national average but has risen at about the same rate.
"In 1986," the report says, "20 percent of the 18-year-olds giving birth were having their second or third child, and 20 percent of the 18-year-olds obtaining abortions had already had one or more abortions."
Dr. Suzanne Dandoy, director of the Utah Department of Health, said the task force can learn several things from these preliminary findings. "A considerable number of teens are having pregnancies. A significant number are having them as unmarried persons. That tells me those are probably pregnancies that perhaps should not have occurred." She said differences in the data from around the state indicates that programs implemented to prevent teen pregnancy should be individualized to meet the needs of the different areas.
Sen. Stephen J. Rees, R-Salt Lake, chairman, said the final report will be the basis of recommendations the task force makes to the governor. The public is invited to comment from 6-9 p.m. June 9 and June 14 in room 303 of the Capitol Building.