Despite record decreases in the rate of U.S. teens who have unplanned pregnancies, America still leads in the number of teen births compared to most Western European countries, according to census data.
U.S. figures collected in 2009 and released in December show that there was an average of 39 births per 1,000 girls, ages 15 to 19, 15 more than the European averages.
Europe averages reveal a 24 per 1,000 birth rate among mid to late adolescent girls. In secular France, the rate is 7 per 1,000. Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands all have birth rates below 10 per 1,000 girls.
Demographer Carl Haub told The Associated Press, "There may be more sex there than here" among teenagers. But the difference in the numbers, experts contend, is the U. S. youths' inadequate access to pregnancy planning tools such as abortion.
In Sweden, where the rate of teen pregnancy is a 4 per 1,000, adolescents may lawfully obtain an abortion without parental consent. Thirty-five U.S. states have parental notification laws, requiring abortion providers to notify a minor's parents prior to performing an abortion.
According to 2007 UN data, however, the United States has nearly the same abortion rate as Sweden, 20 per 1,000. Yet America has more than double the rate of teen pregnancies. America also has a higher rate of abortions than the Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom.
Researchers also contend that American youths do not have adequate access to birth control and contraceptives.
Despite the United States' leading number of teen pregnancies, the 2009 rate is the lowest on record in 70 years. States like Georgia are showing similar declines in the number of teen pregnancies within its high risk populations.
Deputy Southwest District Health Director Brenda Greene attributes local and national declines to an emphasis on teen involvement in non-sexual activities.
"The fact that we're focusing on teenagers and keeping them involved in other activities such as after-school programs, keeping them in school, career opportunities – more kids are having the opportunity to go to college – so I think they're focused on more things that are keeping them active," shared Greene.
Some abstinence programs take a similar approach highlighting the positives academic achievement and community involvement over sex. The National Abstinence Education Association says their program is working and that teens want to learn more about abstinence.
"Teens are able to make good decisions, even in the midst of a sex saturated culture," said NAEA executive director Valerie Huber, in a statement about teen pregnancy decreases.
Huber contends that abstinence programs must be empowered to provide teens with the tools to keep making good, healthy decisions.