Thursday, June 26, 2008

South Dakota Fails to keep Pace with Declining Teen Birth Rates

By Josh O.
SD Public Affairs Intern

The Casey Foundation’s recently released five-year progress report on the teen birth rate highlighted some exciting news. The report showed a 17% dip in the teen birth rate nation-wide, accompanied by falling teen abortion and teen pregnancy rates. For every 1000 young women in the age range of 15 to 19, there were only 40 births. This report was truly something to be proud of as Americans who care about the wellbeing of teenagers and babies.

But while South Dakotans rightfully share in celebrating this news for our country, we must also face a harsh reality: 47 states showed lower teen birth rates than five years before, but South Dakota was not one of them.

As the report notes, “Teenage childbearing can have long-term negative effects on both the adolescent mother and the newborn. Babies born to teen mothers are at higher risk of being low-birthweight and preterm. They are also far more likely to be born into families with limited educational and economic resources.” Clearly, lowering the teen birth rate is a worthy policy goal.

Though it is impossible to discover the exact reasons that South Dakota failed to keep pace on this the teen birth rate front, it is vital that we consider what we can do going forward to improve on this dubious distinction.

This re-evaluation must begin with sex education. Is it possible that our state’s decision to tell teens simply, “Don’t have sex,” isn’t working? Is it possible that teaching teens about proper use of contraceptives would have positive implications on not only the teen birth rate, but on the spread of STIs as well?

These are questions that need to be asked. And our state’s residents, school boards and politicians better be ready not only to ask them, but also to come up with some answers.

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