U.S. Teen Birth Rate Rises, Ends 14-Year Streak

The teen birth rate is up again for the first time in 14 years, federal health officials reported Wednesday.

The figure rose three percent among 15 to 19-year-old girls between 2005 and 2006, after dropping 34 percent between 1991 and 2005, the National Center for Health Statistics reported.

"This is concerning," said Stephanie J. Ventura, who heads the center's reproductive statistics branch, to the Washington Post. "It represents an interruption of 14 years of steady decline. Now unexpectedly we have an increase of three percent, which is a significant increase."

The troubling news caused experts to question the effectiveness of the nation's sex-education programs, including the abstinence-only and comprehensive sex-ed programs.

Ventura and some experts said it is too early to know if the rise is the beginning of a trend or simply an aberration, but opponents of the abstinence-only program blame the program's ineffectiveness for the rise in teen births.

"Congress needs to stop knee-jerk approving abstinence-only funding when it's clear it's not working," said U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), who wants more comprehensive sex education, according to The Associated Press.

But supporters of abstinence education counter that ineffectiveness of the standard sex-education programs that focuses on condom use and other contraceptives are to be blamed for the rise.

"This [report] shows that the contraceptive message that kids are getting is failing," said Leslee Unruh of the Abstinence Clearinghouse. "The contraceptive-only message is treating the symptom, not the cause. You need to teach about relationships. If you look at what kids have to digest on a daily basis, you have adults teaching kids about the pleasures of sex but not about the responsibilities that go with it."

A biannual government survey of high school students found that the percent of those who said they used a condom the last time they had sex rose to 63 percent in 2005, up from 46 percent in 1991, according to AP

"What we're really witnessing are the effects of contraceptive-focused sex education, often labeled as 'comprehensive sex education,'" said Family Research Council president Tony Perkins, in a statement. "So-called comprehensive sex education falsely exaggerates the protective effect of condoms and promotes unsafe behavior. The results could not be clearer – an increase in STD rates in young people, and an increase in out-of-wedlock teenage pregnancies."

Instead, Perkins praised "authentic abstinence-until-marriage" education that focuses on risk avoidance strategy rather than risk reduction.

"In contrast with the physical-health-only approach of contraceptive-based education, abstinence-until-marriage education promotes a holistic health prevention message which addresses mental, emotional, and physical health in a mutually reinforcing way," the FRC head added.

Teen birth rates rose sharply between 1986 and 1991, hitting an all-time high of 61.8 births per 1,000 girls in 1991. In response, an intensive campaign to counter the trend, including abstinence education programs, was launched resulting in steady decline of both rates of teen sexual activity and teen birth rates until 2005.

Congress is currently debating whether to increase federal funding for abstinence-only sex-education programs by $28 million a year to about $204 million a year. Meanwhile, 12 states have rejected Title V abstinence education funding for their youth – Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, Maine, California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Wisconsin, Arizona, Montana, and Connecticut – with several more states considering to also refuse the abstinence funding.