2009 Teen Pregnancy Statistics

04.07.11: Teen Pregnancy is down, but Women's Health is up in the air.


Three news headlines and one patient’s story come together this week, inspiring me to write about action and consequences, sex and abstinence, teenage pregnancy and women’s health.

1) The Centers for Disease Control says fewer teenagers got pregnant in 2009 than in any year since 1991. Apparently, teens are having sex less often and using contraceptives more often. Still, 410,000 American teenage girls between the ages 15 and 19 had babies in 2009. That’s considered good news, but US teens get pregnant at a rate that’s nine times higher than in any other developed country due to mixed messages about sexuality and lack of access to education, health care services and health insurance. Which teens get pregnant most often? African Americans, Hispanics and teens from low-income households.

2) Extreme budget cuts proposed by some political leaders (AKA The Pence Amendment) include cutting funding for Planned Parenthood as a way to advance fiscal responsibility. Where do teenagers go to get free or reduced cost contraceptives? Planned Parenthood, among other places. What costs more? Contraception or prenatal, childbirth, maternal, newborn and pediatric healthcare? Hint – contraception is cheap. Who pays for it when millions of Americans have no health insurance or access to healthcare? Hint – all of us.

3) Bristol Palin is reported to have earned $262,000 in 2009 as an abstinence ambassador for The Candie’s Foundation teen pregnancy prevention campaign. Palin told The Associated Press last year that girls would think twice about having sex if they knew how tough it is to be a mother. I’m sure they would, but motherhood’s tough for adult women too and plenty of us go on to have unplanned pregnancies. Abstinence-based education programs aren’t very effective in preventing pregnancy.

I’ve been in the delivery room with countless teenagers over the years, but one young family really sticks in my mind. Brianna (not her real name) was 17 when she delivered her son. She was a senior in high school with a 4.0 grade point average, captain of her volleyball team and leader of her school’s constitutional law debate team. She planned on attending an ivy-league college to study politics and international law. She and Ryan had been together since sophomore year. Ryan was also a top-notch student and worked as a lifeguard at the community pool to save money for his own college education.

Brianna’s mother, Peggy, was in the delivery room for the birth and Ryan’s mom waited with the rest of his family in the lobby. While both grandmothers welcomed this new baby into their families, but tears of sadness were mixed with tears of joy. Ryan’s mom said, “I thought we’d be planning for the prom right about now, not paying for diaper service.” High school graduation and college dreams were temporarily on hold for Brianna and Ryan.

Peggy says, “I raised my daughter to know she could do anything she wanted with her life. The future was all hers and she could break every glass ceiling. It turns out I was more concerned about her future than I was about her present. I kept telling her not to be in such a big hurry to grow up and I didn’t notice she was already a young woman. Brianna never wanted to disappoint or worry me so she didn’t ask me to help her get birth control. She just planned on not having sex. She and Ryan were careful about what they did for a long time. But, sex is powerful at any age and eventually they just went further than they’d gone before. There wasn’t any “thinking twice about it. They weren’t thinking about parenthood. They were just following human nature and they got caught. It happens to millions of adults too. Sex is powerful.”

Indeed it is. Sex is powerful. Powerful enough to make babies even when we “think” we’ve prevented them. Few of us (adults and teens alike) think clearly when we’re “in the moment.” We’re feeling, hoping, wondering, wishing and maybe even praying; but thinking? Not so much. If we don’t get contraceptives in time (and even sometimes when we do), actions lead to consequences and some of us get pregnant. Unplanned pregnancy isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it is one heck of a diversion. Most “surprised” parents (adults and teens alike), like Palin, cherish their babies and do the best they can to raise them well. Some know they can’t raise them and make other decisions.

According to the CDC, more teenagers are using their heads, having less sex and using birth control more often. Some use health insurance and private doctors to get contraceptives. Many others access free clinics, student clinics or Planned Parenthood. And some who don’t have access to affordable health care and contraceptives will undoubtedly get pregnant. Should they think of the consequences before they take action? Sure, but think about the last time you had sex. Think about your early sex life. Maybe you were a teen yourself the first times you “did it.” Were you making logical checklists of the pros and cons of having sex? Uh, probably not. You may have been a little more “in the moment.”

At this moment in women’s history, let’s examine current events and ask ourselves, “Are we really doing the best we can to take care of women, children and those in between – teenagers?” The ball is in Washington DC’s court.

Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and five children. Got a question for Jeanne? E-mail it to labornurse@fitpregnancy.com and it may be answered in a future blog post.

This Fit Pregnancy blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician. Before initiating any exercise program, diet or treatment provided by Fit Pregnancy, you should seek medical advice from your primary caregiver.