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Teen Pregnancies Have Hit an All-Time Low

But teens still aren’t opting for the most effective forms of birth control

(Sverre Haugland/Image Source/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

The United States has one of the highest rate of teen pregnancies in the developed world, with up to seven times the rate of pregnancy of countries like Switzerland. But in recent years, that rate has been falling. Now, new data released from the CDC shows that in the U.S. teen pregnancies have hit an all-time low, falling from 61.8 births per 1,000 teens in 1991 to 26.5 births per 1,000 teens in 2013.

The data has some big implications for both the government and young women. The CDC estimates that the United States spends approximately $9.4 billion each year on teen moms, and studies have shown that teen moms face everything from poverty to domestic violence.

But the CDC’s report also shows that though 90 percent of teens are using contraception, most aren’t using the most effective types of birth control. Officials say that Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) like IUDs and implants, which can prevent pregnancy from three to 10 years, are only being used by a handful of teens. The two main methods of birth control used by teens—birth control pills and condoms—fail more often and are forgotten more frequently, meaning they’re a less effective option for sexually active teenagers.

But though use of LARC is on the rise (teens seeking birth control opted for LARC seven percent of the time in 2013, up from just one percent in 2005), there are plenty of barriers to its use. Not many teens know much about it, and many think it’s only for older women. (For many years, doctors only recommended IUDs to women who were done with child-bearing.) And when teens seek LARC at clinics, they can be stymied by high costs, uninformed clinicians and those who mistakenly believe that IUDs and implants are unsafe or inappropriate for teen use.

That needs to change, says Hal Lawrence, CEO and executive vice president of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “Long-acting reversible contraceptive methodsincluding intrauterine devices and implants—are the most effective forms of reversible contraception available and are safe for use by almost all reproductive-age women.” In a statement, Lawrence noted that long-acting contraception options are just as safe in adolescents in adults…but though the recent reduction in pregnancy rates is “encouraging,” the medical profession must continue to play a role in reducing teen pregnancy.

So where’s the highest concentration of teens who choose contraception like IUDs? In Colorado, where tens of thousands of IUDs were provided to low-income women due to a private grant, the rate of IUD use in teens who seek contraception is the highest in the nation at 25.8 percent. That’s compared to just 0.7 percent of teens who seek birth control in Mississippi.

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