Teen pregnancies are falling nationwide and Utah has one of the lowest percentages of teenage moms, according to a federal agency's report released late this week.
But rather than stop to celebrate, those who work to educate Utah teens say they'll be back at it on Monday, especially considering that about 4,000 Utah girls are giving birth a year.For Karrie Gallow, executive director for Planned Parenthood of Utah, the survey findings are a great boost of confidence that teens are hearing the messages being sent by parents and educators about unsafe sex and unplanned pregnancies.
Like Utah, most states are working to reduce teen pregnancy and found evidence in the survey that their efforts are paying off.
The survey shows that falling teen birth rates previously reported are due to a decrease in teen pregnancy, not an increase in abortions.
And abortion rates dropped in nearly every state, falling even faster than birth rates, according to the report released Thursday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The major reasons: Less sex and greater use of birth control, officials said. Others suggest an improved economy may be giving teens more hope for the future and more motivation to avoid getting pregnant.
"We've done a much better job at educating kids. I think we've reached more kids," said Nan Streeter, manager for reproductive health for the Utah Department of Health. "There is more and more awareness of what may happen if a teen is sexually active."
Pregnancy rates vary widely by state. In 1995, they ranged from 56 pregnancies for every 1,000 teenage girls in North Dakota to 117 in Nevada. In the District of Columbia, it was 229, meaning nearly 1 in 4 teen girls got pregnant.
Utah's teen pregnancy rate declined 11.5 percent between 1992 and 1995 to a rate of 58.1 pregnancies per 1,000 girls. That was in line with the national trend in which the District of Columbia and all states surveyed reported a drop in pregnancy rates for girls and women ages 15 to 19.
Donna Shalala, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said nearly 1 million teenage girls become pregnant each year, and more than 200,000 girls have abortions.
Twenty-six states reported declines in abortion rates of 15 percent or higher, while just four states had birth rates that dropped so dramatically.
A pregnancy rate combines a state's birth and abortion rates, along with an estimate of miscarriages and stillbirths.
But states are not required to report abortion statistics to the government, and some large states - California, Illinois and Florida - do not, making it impossible to devise a national teen pregnancy rate.
Researchers are not sure why abortion rates have dropped, said Mary Goodwin, who prepared the CDC report. Reasons may include increasing acceptance of birth among unmarried teens and tightened access to abortions, she said.
Abortion rates dropped everywhere but Maine, Ohio and Oregon.
After increasing through the 1980s, teen sexual activity dropped slightly by 1995. And more teens said they used birth control the first time they had sex.
Utahns are doing a much better job helping children and teens understand the high risks of unprotected sex, Streeter said. Schools are incorporating HIV/AIDS information into health classes. There is state money available for adolescent pregnancy prevention programs in high schools.
Still, she and Gallow know better than to get too carried away with the information. They know that about 10 percent of all births in Utah are to teenage moms. And 16 percent of teens giving birth already have one child. More than half of the fathers are 20 or older.
"We have plenty of work to do," Gallow said. "We still have a million pregnancies by teenagers a year in the United States and that is a real tough start to a family.
"My biggest fear when we have good news is everyone sits back and says, `We've taken care of that.' All this is is a pause for those of us who've been working on the issue to have a sense of rejuvenation."
Five highest states. Births are per thousand.
State Rate % Change
D.C. 229.6 -6.6
Nevada 117.1 -6.3
Texas 116.3 -4.8
Georgia 115.6 -8.3
North Carolina 112.4 -8.9
Five lowest states. Births are per thousand.
State Rate % Change
North Dakota 56.3 -11.8
Minnesota 56.4 -6.3
Wyoming 58.0 -8.4
Utah 58.1 -11.5
Maine 58.7 -9.8