The XX Factor

Can We Blame Dubya’s Policies for the Rise in Teen Pregnancy?

The Guttmacher Institute released a study today that shows that the rates of both teen pregnancy and abortion were on the rise for the first time in over a decade in 2006. In a press release, Guttmacher senior public policy associate Heather Boonstra says that the increase “coincides with an increase in rigid abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which received major funding boosts under the Bush administration.” While all the research shows that abstinence-only education doesn’t really keep kids from having sex , if you look at the state-by-state data, there isn’t a strong correlation between abstinence-only ed and the rise in teen pregnancy.

As the new data from Guttmacher show [pdf], North Dakota has one of the lowest rates of teen pregnancy in the country- and teens are more likely to use condoms in North Dakota than in many other states . And yet, they have a state-funded abstinence-only education program . By contrast, Arizona, which has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy, rejected federal funding for abstinence-only education .

The teen pregnancy rate was at a 30-year low in 2005, so a 3 percent overall rise in teen pregnancy for 2006 is not yet a call for alarm. What is notable is that blacks and Hispanics are becoming pregnant at much higher rates than white teens are. It seems that teen pregnancy prevention advocates should put their energy into targeting these groups in particular. As Sarah Brown of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy tells the Washington Post , “Clearly, the nation’s collective efforts to convince teens to postpone childbearing must be more creative and more intense.” Something tells me that teen pregnancy prevention spokeslady Bristol Palin is not going to reach these demographics very well.

Photograph of pregnant woman by Photodisc/Getty Images.