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HEALTH REPORT - Teenagers and Pregnancy

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This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

A 16-year-old mother with her baby at a mobile health clinic in Garland, Texas, in a 2006 photo
A 16-year-old mother with her baby at a mobile health clinic in Garland, Texas, in a 2006 photo

More than seven hundred thousand teenagers a year get pregnant in the United States. The teen pregnancy rate has fallen thirty-eight percent since the early nineteen nineties.

And the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy says the teen birth rate has fallen by almost as much. Six out of ten pregnant teenagers in two thousand six gave birth.

The nonprofit campaign says these changes have been driven by decreases in sexual activity and increases in contraceptive use.

But it points to recent findings that reductions in teen sex and increases in contraceptive use have leveled off. And the teen birth rate is rising for the first time in fifteen years.

Last week, many Americans talked about the news that the seventeen-year-old daughter of Sarah Palin is pregnant and will get married. Sarah Palin is the governor of Alaska and the Republican nominee for vice president. Campaign officials said the family released a statement because of claims on the Internet that the candidate's baby son was really her daughter's baby.

But there have been other reasons why teen pregnancy has been more of a subject of national discussion lately.

The movie "Juno" came out last December. A teenager gets pregnant and decides to have the baby and give it up for adoption. This comedy about a serious subject won an Academy Award.

And this past June, Jamie Lynn Spears gave birth. The TV star and sister of Britney Spears was sixteen when she got pregnant. Many parents of her young fans were not happy to have to discuss it.

Eight out of ten pregnancies in teenagers are unplanned, compared to half of all pregnancies nationally.

A two thousand one UNICEF report on teenage births in rich nations showed that the United States had the highest rate. But, as a New York Times columnist just noted, the United States did not have the highest rate of sexually active teens. A few others had higher rates. Denmark had the highest. Yet its teen birth and teen abortion rates were much lower than America's.

Part of the debate over what to do about teen pregnancy is how to deal with sex education. Some people argue for an expansion of "abstinence-only" programs. These center on the message that young people should not have sex until marriage. Other people argue that while this may be a good message to teach, it should not be the only one taught in schools.

And that's the VOA Special English Health Report, written by Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember.

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