We interrupt the steady diet of recent bad news with this heartening fact: Fewer teens are getting pregnant in North Carolina and the nation than at any time in recorded history.
“Decline” doesn’t do the phenomenon justice. The teen pregnancy rate has plummeted over the last 25 years, cut in half nationwide and by more than half in some 20 states, including North Carolina.
A little more than 11,000 N.C. girls age 15-19 got pregnant in 2013, an 11 percent drop in one year. That’s about 3.5 percent of all N.C. teen girls, compared with 12.2 percent in 1988 and 5.9 percent as recently as 2010. North Carolina’s rate has dropped by more than half just since 2008.
North Carolina reflects what’s happening nationwide. The national teen pregnancy rate dropped from 11.1 percent to 5.7 percent from 1992 to 2010, and further since then.
It’s all thanks in small part to fewer teens having sex and in large part to more teens using contraceptives and using them correctly. The Guttmacher Policy Review, in its most recent issue, reported on the results of various studies. The first studied the rate’s drop from 1995 to 2002.
“The researchers concluded that the vast majority of the decline in teen pregnancy – 86 percent – was the result of improvements in contraceptive use … The remaining 14 percent of the decline could be attributed to a decrease in sexual activity.”
This year, Guttmacher researchers studied the rate’s drop from 2003 to 2010.
They found that “the decline in teen pregnancy since 2003 had little or nothing to do with teens’ delaying sex. Nationwide, the proportion of teens who had ever had sex did not change significantly between 2003 and 2010 (46 percent and 45 percent, respectively).”
The same percentage of kids are having sex, but dramatically fewer are getting pregnant. The reason: more complete sex education and better access to and use of contraceptives.
It’s important to understand what’s working, so we can continue it and not undercut it. In 2009, the legislature changed public schools’ curriculum from abstinence-only to a more comprehensive education, including teaching about contraceptives. Teen pregnancy rates have plunged since then, more quickly in North Carolina than most other states.
More recently, the legislature has targeted Planned Parenthood for large reductions in state funding. The organization now receives federal money directly for family planning services, and its only state money for teen pregnancy prevention is for programs in Fayetteville and Wilmington.
The legislature should get behind teen pregnancy prevention efforts. Fewer unintended pregnancies also means fewer abortions, something everyone can support. And it means saving money because babies of teens are often a big expense to the taxpayer.
Teens are getting pregnant a lot less frequently. Policymakers should help keep driving that number down to nearly zero by further empowering the teens themselves.