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Teen pregnancy is down as birth control use increases, study says

Sep 2, 2016

I've got great news to end the week. Teen pregnancy is way down.

But it's not because teens are having less sex.

According to a new study published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health the reason is pretty simple: Teens are using more, and more effective, contraceptives.

Births to teens age 15 to 19 dropped by 36% from 2007 to 2013. Teen pregnancies decreased by 25% from 2007 to 2011.

And researchers from the Guttmacher Institute and Columbia University found that "improvement in contraceptive use" accounted for the entire reduced risk of pregnancy. According to NPR:

No single contraceptive method stood out as singularly effective, said the researchers. Instead, they found that teens were using contraceptives more often, combining methods more often, and using more effective methods, such as the birth control pill, IUDs and implants.

The teen birth rate in the U.S. hit a critical peak in 1991, at almost 62 births for every 1,000 adolescent females.

In 2014, the number of teens having babies hit an all-time low, at about 24 births per 1,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The shift was driven by dramatic changes among Hispanic and black teens. Since 2006, the teen birth rates among Hispanic and black teens have dropped 51% and 44%, respectively.

Despite research that proves the benefits of giving teens access to and education about birth control, there's still some reluctance to do so.

Colorado's state-run Colorado Family Planning Initiative gave free or reduced-price IUDs or implantable birth control to more than 30,000 women. From 2009 to 2013, births to teen mothers dropped by 40% and abortions dropped 35%, according to USA Today.

Despite the fact that Colorado officials say the program saved taxpayers $80 million in Medicaid costs, they would have otherwise paid to care for new mothers and their children, when state health officials asked lawmakers last spring to provide $5 million to keep it going, they were rejected.

And many schools across the country practice abstinence-only education, which a 2011 study found may not only be ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancy, but may actually contibute to the high teenage pregnancy rates in the U.S.

Valerie Huber is president and CEO of Ascend, a group that promotes abstinence education. She said in a statement to NPR:

As public health experts and policymakers, we must normalize sexual delay more than we normalize teen sex, even with contraception. We believe youth deserve the best opportunity for a healthy future.

But more recent policy changes could help drop the teen pregnancy rate even more, according to NPR:

One is the Affordable Care Act requirement that boosted insurance coverage for contraception, starting in 2012. The other is the 2014 recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics that sexually active teenagers be offered "long-acting reversible contraception" methods such as implants and intrauterine devices, which are highly effective and do not require any additional action, such as remembering to take a daily pill.

Heather Boonstra is director of public policy for Guttmacher. She told the Washington Examiner:

Teens' increased use of contraceptives indicates their increased commitment to protecting themselves from risk. Policy discussions should focus on supporting teen contraceptive use generally, including ensuring access to a full range of contraceptive education, counseling and methods.