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Experts Say While AZ Teen Births are Down, Pregnancies are Not

July 28, 2010

PHOENIX - The Kids Count Data Book released this week shows teenage births in Arizona dropping 10 percent since the year 2000. Michelle Steinberg, director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Arizona, says teen pregnancies are a different story, however. She says the Kids Count number does not include stillbirths, abortions and miscarriages.

"While it may sound like we're doing better because the birth rate is decreasing, we're actually not, because the teen pregnancy rate is increasing. We have the third-highest rate of teen pregnancy in the nation."

In Steinberg's view, what is needed is for parents to become more involved, providing their kids with information on both abstinence and contraception. When parents can't or won't do that, she believes schools need to step in. She says abstinence would be the perfect solution to teen pregnancy if all kids would embrace that message — but they don't.

"We believe that teens should remain abstinent, and for more reasons than just preventing pregnancy. In Arizona, one out of four teens is infected with an STD. There will be teens that are sexually active — and if they are becoming sexually active with no information, that's a dangerous situation."

In Arizona, schools are not required to provide sex education. Of the districts that do have programs, many emphasize abstinence-only. Steinberg wants the state to join others that mandate all schools teach both abstinence and contraception. Those states have some of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the nation, she adds.

"Maine is a good example; Oregon is an example, and Washington. These are states that have adopted a comprehensive program in their schools, and they're at the bottom of the teen pregnancy scale."

However, many Arizona school boards and supporters of the abstinence-only approach insist that decisions on what kind of sex education to offer, or whether to offer it at all, must be made at the local level.

Doug Ramsey, Public News Service - AZ