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Teen Sex Less Productive

October 02, 1995
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY _ Maybe they're doing it less. Or, maybe, sex is just less productive for teen girls these days.

But whatever the reason, the number of pregnant teens in Missouri has taken a dip in the last five years, according to statistics from the Missouri Health Department.

And so have the number of induced abortions.

In the last five years, the state's teenage pregnancy rate has fallen by 11 percent. In 1989, 86.1 out of 1000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 in Missouri became pregnant.

In 1994, that rate fell to 76.9 teens out of 1000. Those numbers include all live births, induced abortions and miscarriages, said Phil Batty, a research analyst for the Health Department.

Missouri is just one of several states with a dropping teenage pregnancy rate, according to statistics from the Center for Disease Control. Between 1980 and 1990, the CDC reported that 22 other states had decreasing rates.

The reduction in induced abortions was even more dramatic, with a drop of 35 percent since 1989, the Health Department reported. During the five-year period, the number of teenage abortions went from 25.6 abortions per 1000 teenage girls in 1989 to 16.7 abortions per 1000 in 1994.

So what contributes to this decrease? "We don't have the information to answer that question," said Nela Beetem, consultant community nurse for the Health Department.

Beetem said the Health Department is working on a report concerning adolescent health, which, once it's completed, could indicate why the rate of teenage pregnancy has decreased. The Health Department doesn't have information concerning the number of sexually active teenagers, since that would require schools to issue surveys, Beetam said.

"Our schools are not willing to ask those questions," Beetem said.

Last spring, the Education Department issued a student health survey to Missouri schools. Department officials say they have not yet completed tabulating the survey results, but that a report should be released soon.

Lynn Pike, director of the state-sponsored Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Program _ a program geared toward teenage mothers _ said that the statistics showing a decrease in pregnant teens are getting more attention than they deserve. Another 5-10 years are needed to see whether the decrease is a continuing trend.

"It might very well go back up in a few years," Pike said. "I think it's too soon to tell."

The Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Program provides mentors who help teenage mothers deal with the tasks that come with pregnancy, like shopping, transportation, and dealing with attorneys. The program's goal is to help pregnant teens who use the program to become good mothers.

And with that goal comes instilling responsibility. "We are trying to prevent repeat pregnancies," Pike said. In its one year of its existence, it has met that goal.

"Knock on wood, none of them have had a repeat pregnancy so far," Pike said.

The program, sponsored by the Health Department, the University of Missouri and the Children's Trust Fund, services pregnant teens in Boone, Cooper and Howard counties.

It is one of the only community-based programs the state funds that works to prevent teenage pregnancy, Beetem said.