Public Policy and Teenage Pregnancy

Just as there is a lack of consensus about the consequences of teenage pregnancy, the optimal focus for public policy and intervention is also in dispute. Some experts reason that because the disadvantaged circumstances in which many women grow up are a predominant factor impacting teen birth rates, policies and programs would be most effectively directed at ameliorating that disadvantage and developing positive life options for young women. Others, however, maintain that in the absence of conclusive research findings to the contrary, targeted interventions such as the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy initiated in 1996 have potential benefits and should continue to be pursued.

It is clear that teenage pregnancy fell steadily over the 1990s in the United States, with reductions seen for each of the three pregnancy outcomes (live births, induced abortions, and fetal losses). The Na tional Center for Health Statistics noted several concurrent trends related to teen pregnancy rates over this period. First, rates of sexual activity among teenagers appear to have stabilized and perhaps declined, as measured by teens' responses in several national surveys. In addition, increases have been reported in condom use and in the availability and adoption of other effective birth control methods including injectable and implantable contraceptives. These behavioral trends may well have been influenced by educational and contraceptive-related intervention programs; however, it is also important to note that they occurred during a period of remarkable, sustained economic expansion. This expansion increased the opportunities available to teenagers, making higher educational and occupational goals more desirable and attainable and in the process providing a powerful impetus for behavior change.

See also: BIRTH; FATHERS; POVERTY; PREGNANCY; SEX EDUCATION; SEXUAL ACTIVITY

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