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Teen Pregnancies Take Biggest Drop in 25 Years

TIMES STAFF WRITER

California in 1996 registered the largest single-year drop in the rate of teenage pregnancies in 25 years, and the decline was spread among all regions of the state and all ethnic groups, the state Department of Health Services reported Friday.

Statewide, the birth rate of mothers between the ages of 15 and 19 fell 9% in 1996 from 1995. There were 63,118 births to girls in this category in 1996, down from 66,644 the year before, and from more than 70,000 in 1991.

The decline in birth rates among teenagers has now continued for five years.

Aides to Gov. Pete Wilson, lauding the findings, said the numbers reflect significant increases in state funding for programs aimed at combating teenage pregnancies. Family planning advocates agreed.

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“We’re doing a lot of things to discourage teenage pregnancies, and they are paying off,” Sandra Smoley, Wilson’s health and welfare secretary, said.

Health department experts say that California’s decrease was twice the national drop of 4%. Still, California continues to have the nation’s highest teenage birth rate.

“Despite the good news,” Smoley said, “we must not be complacent.”

The problem of teenage pregnancy has been attracting significant attention from educators, legislators and the Wilson administration throughout the 1990s, and they have been spending increasing amounts on education and contraception.

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This year, the state has earmarked $81 million for a program geared toward teenagers to increase access to family planning and counseling, an increase of $16 million from last year’s level.

Wilson also has pushed a three-year, $29-million education and advertising campaign aimed at encouraging abstinence, attacking statutory rape, and creating a mentoring program to help teenagers avoid pregnancy.

“We’re seeing the return on that investment,” said Katherine Kneer, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood, a recipient of state family planning grants. “There is a correlation between access to contraception and teen pregnancies. It really is important to educate them. I feel like for the first time we really have adequate resources.”

Emily Lloyd, executive director of El Nido Family Centers in Los Angeles, cited the impact of government-funded AIDS prevention programs aimed at youths. “More of the teens are using condoms,” she said.

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“There is more of a commitment to pregnancy prevention on the state’s part,” Lloyd said. “Hopefully, it will be maintained. Programs that last two or three years aren’t going to do it. As we’ve seen with smoking, it almost takes a generation.”

The health department statistics released Friday show that statewide, teenagers 15 to 19 gave birth at a rate of 58 babies for every 1,000 girls. The rate had been 64.4 in 1995.

According to health department analysts, the teenage birth rate fell 11.8% among whites, 11.7% among African Americans, 11.4% among Asians and 7% among Latinas.

Although the decline among Latinas was not as great as it was for other groups, state health department analysts said it was notable because Latinas accounted for the largest number of teenage pregnancies in California--39,535 in 1996.

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“We could not have had these large drops [in the overall rate] without the drop in the Hispanic teen birth rate,” said Don Taylor, a health department research specialist who focuses on teenage pregnancy.

Taylor’s statistics show that Latinas ages 15 to 19 gave birth at a rate of 123 babies per 1,000 in 1993. By 1996, that rate had fallen to 102 births per 1,000.

The teenage birth rate for African Americans fell to 77 births per 1,000 in 1996, from 98 per 1,000 in 1993.

For whites, the birth rate fell to 28 births per 1,000 last year, from 36 births per 1,000 in 1993. The rate for Asian teenagers was 27 per 1,000 last year, down from 32 per 1,000 in 1993.

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Health department experts focus on teenagers between 15 and 19 because they account for by far the largest number of girls who become pregnant and give birth.

The number of births to girls under 15 has remained almost static--1,485 in 1996, compared to 1,469 in 1991. The rate has fallen slightly, to 1.3 births per 1,000 for girls under age 15, from 1.5 births per 1,000 population in 1991.

Among girls ages 15 to 19, there were drops in birth rates in 46 counties, including Los Angeles County, where the birth rate fell 9.2% last year from 1995.

The rate in Los Angeles was 68 births for every 1,000 girls in that age range in 1996, compared with 75 births per 1,000 the year before.

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In all, girls in Los Angeles County ages 15 to 19 gave birth to 19,958 babies last year, compared to 21,612 in 1995.

Orange County had the smallest percentage drop among large Southern California counties, with its rate falling 3% in 1996.

Orange County’s teenage birth rate, however, was lower than the statewide rate, and below that of most urban counties--56 births per 1,000 in the 15 to 19 age range. In all, for Orange County girls ages 15 to 19 there were 4,247 births in 1996, compared with 4,268 the year before.

The birth rate for girls 15 to 19 fell 10% in Riverside, 9.7% in Ventura County, 9.1% in San Bernardino County and 6% in San Diego County. Imperial County registered an increase of less than 1%.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Drop in Teenage Pregnancy Rate

The teenage pregnancy rate declined in almost every California county in 1996. Here are statistics for countie with more than 1,000 births last year to mothers ages 15-19:

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Birth rate per County 1,000 girls 15-19 % change Alameda 44.8 -11.3% Contra Costa 36.4 -3.2% Fresno 79.9 -10.2% Kern 77.1 -14.0% Los Angeles 68.3 -9.2% Orange 55.7 -3.0% Riverside 60.2 -10.0% Sacramento 53.8 -14.6% San Bernardino 66.9 -9.1% San Diego 56.3 -6.0% San Joaquin 63.6 -14.0% Santa Clara 46.6 -5.9% Stanislaus 62.0 -6.2% Tulare 87.1 -4.1% Ventura 46.5 -9.7% Statewide 58.6 -9.0%

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Sources: State Health and Welfare Agency


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