Why we’re getting good news on teen pregnancy again

The Observer editorial board

Health officials encourage long acting contraceptives

After Jazmin Perez got pregnant at 16, she became serious about not having another child before she was ready.
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After Jazmin Perez got pregnant at 16, she became serious about not having another child before she was ready.

Here’s some news we never tire of reporting: The teen pregnancy rate continues to decline across the country, including in North Carolina.

New numbers last week from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that birth rates for females ages 15-19 have declined 38.5 percent nationwide from 2006-07 to 2013-14. The drop is even more stark for black teens (40.3 percent) and Hispanic teens (47.8 percent.)

In North Carolina, the numbers are even better, with a 43.3 percent drop overall, including 42.4 percent for black teens and a startling 61.5 percent for Hispanic teens.

Why the drop? It’s in small part due to fewer teens having sex but in large part due to improvements in contraceptive use, according to a 2014 study by the Guttmacher Policy Review. That improved contraceptive use comes from teen pregnancy prevention programs that offer sex education and better access to those contraceptives.

One program that stands out: In Colorado, women were offered a free long-acting birth control device (often a small rod implanted in the arm). Not coincidentally, the teen birth rate in Colorado has decreased 47.5 percent since 2006-2007, the second highest decline in the country. (Connecticut is first at 47.6 percent.)

In North Carolina, Gaston County adopted a similar program and has seen a 45 percent reduction in teen pregnancy between 2010-2015. Mecklenburg County health director Marcus Plescia would like to replicate that program but expand it to all unintended pregnancies, not just teen births. He has been encouraged about potential funding from “community leaders,” but nothing has been made public yet, he told the editorial board Friday.

It’s an idea N.C. lawmakers should get behind, because fewer pregnancies across North Carolina means significant Medicaid savings and, even better, a drop in abortions. That’s news everyone should want.

Lottery advertising

When you think of what North Carolina badly needs, do you think: “more lottery advertising!”?

Neither do we. But state legislators have a bill before them that would double the amount spent each year on hyping the lottery, from about $20 million to about $40 million. More billboards, more TV and radio ads, more pop-up ads online.

Lottery advertising is simply the state trying to goad its citizens into throwing their money away. The ticket cost is largely, as is often said, a tax on people who are bad at math. Sen. Jerry Tillman’s bill would double the state’s efforts on this front.

Such a move might be worth considering if there were a big payoff for education. But there’s not. By increasing the amount it spends on advertising by 100 percent, the lottery is projected to increase its net revenue by only 10 percent or less. That’s hardly worth the noise pollution and the further deception of residents.

When the lottery passed in 2005, we warned that the state would “have to become a carnival barker, aggressively enticing citizens to make sucker bets in order to keep the cash flowing. It won’t be a pretty sight.”

So here we are, with the ramped-up barking being pushed by some of the same senators, such as Tillman, who opposed creating the lottery in the first place.