Fight against teen pregnancy gains ground, but war isn't over yet




Since the early 1990s, teen pregnancy and birth rates in the United States have declined by 44 and 52 percent, respectively, according to a study released Monday by the Guttmacher Institute. Even with that progress, May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, and the effort to prevent teen pregnancy is ongoing in Finney and surrounding counties.

The pregnancy rate for Kansas females age 10 to 19 dropped by 5.7 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to a Kansas Department of Health and Environment report.

The pregnancy rates for girls ages 15 to 17 and 18 to 19 are both lower than the targets set by Healthy People 2020, which provides science-based, 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans.

For females ages 15 to 17, the rate in the KDHE report was 17 out of 1,000, while the Healthy People target was 36.2 out of 1,000. In the 18- to 19-year-old age group in the KDHE report, the rate was 70.8 per 1,000, while the Healthy People 2020 target is 105.9 per 1,000.

These pregnancy rates for Kansas are lower than the national targets, however, the state's birth rate for females age 15 to 19 is still higher than the national average.

Teen birth rates in both Kansas and the U.S. have declined since 2008, but Kansas rates aren't dropping as quickly as national rates. The Kansas rate decreased by 3.7 percent in 2012. The preliminary U.S. rate dropped almost twice as much, by 6.1 percent.

"This is a very important time with Finney County to promote this, with the rate being so high," said Dawn Thiel, executive director of ABC Pregnancy Care Center. "This is a needed service and a needed time to stop and consider what's going on with our teens and provide the help we can get them."

Based off 2012 statistics, Finney County is ranked 10th in the state in teen pregnancy at 33.2 out of 1,000, Thiel said, although the drop in rates has been significant. In 1993, 73.3 out of 1,000 female teens were pregnant in Finney County.

Thiel said the organization provides several different avenues, such as abstinence programs to educate youth groups on the benefits of abstinence, free pregnancy tests and visits with girls about the chances of getting pregnant and the risk of having sex at a young age.

"It gives us a time to really visit with them and show them through facts and figures and emotional consequences, and give them an informed decision," she said.

ABC Pregnancy also provides sonograms, parenting classes and abortion recovery, but lists abstinence as its No. 1 priority.

What Thiel emphasized was the low graduation rates of pregnant teenagers and consequences of earlier pregnancy. Thirty percent of teen girls who have dropped out of high school cite pregnancy as a key reason, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and Unplanned Pregnancy. Only 40 percent of teen mothers finish high school, and less than 2 percent of those girls earn a college degree by age 30, according to the campaign.

"When they come in to us, we are totally honest with them. They might not always like what we say, but I'm going to do what I can to help," Thiel said. "I'm not saying they can't do it, but it's a harder and tougher road ahead of them. At that age, they don't realize how hard it is to raise a child."

Thiel acknowledged that women age 20 to 25 represent 38 percent of her clientele, and those ages 15 to 19 are right behind at 37 percent — representing numbers from April.

"I realize sex is an easy thing to do, and understand their feelings, but find the time when it's appropriate," Thiel said.

ABC Pregnancy Care Center was established in 1995, and Thiel added that next year the nonprofit organization will celebrate its 20-year anniversary.

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