The pregnancy rate among teenage girls in the United States has jumped for the first time in more than a decade, raising alarm that the long campaign to reduce motherhood among adolescents is faltering, according to a report released Tuesday. The pregnancy rate among 15-to-19-year-olds increased 3 percent between 2005 and 2006 — the first jump since 1990, according to an analysis of the most recent data collected by the federal government and the nation’s leading reproductive-health think tank.
Teen pregnancy has long been one of the most pressing social issues and has triggered intense political debate over sex education, particularly whether the federal government should fund programs that encourage abstinence until marriage or focus on birth control. The cause of the increase is the subject of debate. Several experts blamed the increase in teen pregnancies on sex-education programs that focus on encouraging abstinence. Others said the reversal could be due to a variety of factors, including an over-sexualized culture, lack of involved and positive role models, an increase in poverty and complacency about AIDS, prompting lax use of birth control such as condoms.
The rate at which U.S. teenagers were having sex rose steadily through the 1970s and 1980s, fueling a sharp rise in teen pregnancies and births. That trend reversed around 1991 because of AIDS, changing social mores about sex and other factors, including greater use of contraceptives, which pushed the U.S. teen pregnancy rate to historic lows.
The Obama administration is currently launching a $110 million pregnancy prevention initiative focused on programs with proven effectiveness but has left open the possibility of funding some innovative approaches that include encouraging abstinence.