Welfare costs associated with teenage pregnancies reached an all-time high of $17.2 billion nationally, and members of the Governor's Task Force on Teenage Pregnancy Prevention want the public to help them find solutions to Utah's portion of the problem.
The task force will hear testimony during public hearings from 6-9 p.m. June 9 and 14 in Room 303 of the State Capitol Building. Or written comments can be sent to the task force, 436 State Capitol Building, Salt Lake City, UT 84114.A recent preliminary study released by a task force subcommittee indicated that there are misconceptions about teenage pregnancy in Utah. "There seems to be a lot of misinformation. I've heard people say, `Utah has the highest pregnancy rate in the country,' " said Sen. Stephen Rees, R-Salt Lake and task force chairman. "The report showed we are 30 percent below the national average but up in the birth rate slightly because of Utah's low abortion rate."
The task force hopes the hearings will provide information and possibly new ways of addressing the problem so that the task force can launch "a broad-based attack on teenage pregnancy, philosophically as well as in the service area," said member Karrie T. Galloway, director of Planned Parenthood. "It's a complex issue, and it would be naive to think there's one solution to the problem. My concern is to address the issue of teenage pregnancy, which doesn't `happen' to teens. They have a decision in it. I think we'd all like to see young people support young people to make better decisions."
When the task force, which began working in April 1987, ends in December, members hope to have recommendations and even programs in place to deal with the problem.
"We have heard primarily from task force members and programs we knew about. I believe there are other ideas and suggestions that need to be heard," said Dr. Suzanne Dandoy, executive director of the Utah Department of Health. She said the task force has tried to identify whether there is a problem in Utah - and concluded there seems to be one. "Now we have to ask ourselves, if there is a problem, then where it is, who is it and how extensive is it?"
The public hearings should help answer those questions.
The task force knows certain facts: One-third of all births to teens are outside of marriage. There seems to be a correlation between teenage motherhood and welfare program participation. Most people in Utah don't believe it's a good idea to have a child out of wedlock. But they say there's a lot to be learned.
Dandoy and Galloway both hope the task force study will also point out ways to strengthen prenatal care for young women who do get pregnant. "Not all of our efforts should be geared to prevent pregnancy. That would be the best thing, but we also have an obligation to healthier pregnancies," Dandoy said.
Studies have shown that teenage mothers are more apt to ignore problems, that they get inadequate prenatal care, are generally less healthy themselves and more apt to lose the infant before birth or have low-birth-weight children with complications. "We get a lot of small, risky babies in newborn intensive care units," Dandoy said.
"Abstention is only one issue," Galloway said. "We need to design a program to address all areas of teenage pregnancy. If I ruled the world, it would include a religious approach, a public service campaign and guidelines for the schools that would offer specific help in dealing with the issue."
Rees said many things contribute to the problem, including steady dating and substance abuse problems. "But it appears one of the big factors in preventing it is a value system - an abstinence value. We need to find a non-judgmental, non-preachy, pragmatic way to integrate the issue into our social problems classes and health classes that would promote these decision-making skills at an early stage, instead of waiting until the pregnancy occurs."