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The teen pregnancy issue

March 22, 2005

Does telling teenagers about birth control encourage them to become sexually active, or does it protect those who are already active from becoming pregnant?

It's a question many people would rather not confront, but Washington County Health Officer William Christoffel said again last week that the high teenage birth rate is something county officials can no longer ignore.

We agree. The measures in place aren't working and it's time to find something that will.

In February, Christoffel told the Washington County Commissioners that in 2003, 185 females ages 15 to 19 gave birth.

That same year, he said, the Washington County birth rate was 45 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19.

That's the fourth highest rate in the state, even though Washington County isn't close to being Maryland's fourth most populous county.

Research shows that babies born to teenage mothers are more likely to become victims of abuse or neglect. That's true in part because teen mothers are more likely to be poor and less likely to finish high school, let alone go to college.

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There's also a cost to providing services to teen mothers and the children. This month, Advocates for Children, a Washington, D.C., group that studies children's issues, released a report containing financial data.

The report said that in 1996, the latest year for which figures are available, the federal government spent $38 billion to provide services to families that began with a birth by a teen mother.

The report went on to say that research indicates that sex education that emphasizes both abstinence and contraception has been shown to delay the onset of teen sexual activity.

Many will oppose such ideas, but even those people will have to concede that the programs now in place in the school system aren't working well enough.

What would work? We'd like to see a group of citizens, educators and health officials study this issue and recommend some possible changes. There are costs involved in this problem, but until a solution is found, more young women and the children they have will pay the greatest price.

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