Awareness, education contribute to fewer teen pregnancies
|During the same years when teens develop their first romantic relationships, state curriculum offers an overview of health issues. As part of the course, students may participate in a segment covering sexuality and reproduction. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that pregnancy rates have fallen in recent years and attibutes the drop to a greater discussion on sexual responsibility and abstinence.|
The number of teens in the state to become pregnant between the ages 15 and 19 has declined 35 percent between 1990 and 2002, according to the Utah Department of Health (UDOH). Seven percent of Utah infants are born by teens.
Teen pregnancies are declining not just in Utah, but across the nation. Still, many soon-to-be mothers and new mothers in Carbon County are in middle and high school.
"When girls have babies as teens, their futures can change drastically. Their risk for living in poverty, relying on welfare and other government programs, and dropping out of school greatly increases. The chance of their children growing up and continuing the cycle also increases," said Jennifer Mayfield, adolescent health coordinator for UDOH.
Teen mothers can have a worse outcome compared to older mothers who are in their 20s or 30s. Some problems for mother and child during teen pregnancies may result in abortions, inadequate child care and having more children before age 20. There also is an increased chance of the mother and family living in poverty.
"There can be many different signs of being pregnant depending on the person. But usually the first sign would be a missed period," stated Danielle Pendergrass, nurse practitioner at the College of Eastern Utah Student Health and Wellness Center.
The CEU Health and Wellness Center offers medical and family planning services like sick calls, prescriptions, general and sports physicals, women's health services, pap smears, birth control, pregnancy testing, emergency contraception, male and female testing for sexually transmitted disease and oral HIV testing.
If a woman in her teens becomes pregnant or is not sure if she is, the best thing to do is to talk to someone or go to the nearest health clinic.
"Come in and talk to us. We can help you figure out if you are pregnant or not," counseled Pendergrass.
At the CEU Health and Wellness Center staff members talk to sexually active individuals and help by providing resources they may need about contraception and education on alternatives and prevention of pregnancy. The center offers almost anything on the market, like patches, pills, rings, shots, IUDs and free condoms.
There are many adoption services available for teen mothers who wish to give up their baby after it is born. Two of the most popular adoption services in Utah are LDS Family Services and the Pregnant Risk Line.
"Most teen mothers keep their child. Not all, but most LDS teens who are pregnant turn to adoption," Perndergrass said.
Neither Castleview Hospital nor other medical facilities in Carbon County offer abortion services, although abortions are available at Mountain View Women's Center, Utah Women's Clinic and Wasatch Women's Center, all located on the Wasatch Front. To have an abortion procedure performed in Utah, a mother must have been pregnant for less than 20 weeks. Beyond 20 weeks, she has to go to Colorado or another state to proceed with the abortion. Also if before nine weeks she doesn't have to have the vacuum procedure, instead she may take a pill.
|Data from the Utah Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control shows that both teen pregnancy and abortion rates have fallen since they peaked in 1990. National data is not available beyond 2000.|
In 2002, the Utah Health Department found that 3,579 teens in Utah ages 15 to 19 gave birth, and 34.8 per 1,000 Utah teen females were pregnant.
Infants born to teen mothers are at greater risk for low birth weight, preterm delivery, and other complications. From 2000 to 2002, mothers ages 15 to 17 had a 61 percent higher rate of low birth weight infants compared to those in their 20s. Infants born to mothers under 20 years old were 31 percent more likely to die than infants born to older mothers.
Approximately 33 percent of teen mothers ages 18 to 19 become single before giving birth. And 85 percent of teens are unmarried when they get pregnant and after having the child.
Carbon High's health teacher, Jared Butler, spends a full unit or two weeks on what is allowed by Utah state law and the Utah State Board of Education. The sex education subjects Butler is allowed to teach relate to reproductive anatomy and health, human reproduction, STDs, contraception, HIV/AIDS and information on self-exams.
Students are given a Utah State Office of Education consent form to take home for their parents to review. The form explains what the unit is going to cover. Parents can then sign the form to give consent for their son or daughter to be taught the sex education portion of the class. If a student's parent doesn't give permission, the student has to sit in the library doing other work until the unit is finished.
Butler feels teaching his students about the importance of abstinence is how to fix the problem. He stated, "I don't feel that teen pregnancy is increasing. You're still going to have that problem but at least you can open the students' eyes to teen pregnancy."
Utah law prohibits teaching about specifics of intercourse, erotic behavior, the advocacy of homosexuality and sexual activity outside of marriage.
Carbon High school student Danielle Shook stated, "I think that teen sex has always been there and the problem is expanding now because of the media and the students being brought up without morals and specific boundaries."
It's not authorized for health instructors to answer any "how" questions in class. For instance if a student was wondering how a child was conceived the instructor would have to refer the student to his or her parents for that question and any other "how" questions.
Butler feels he is helping his students. He went on to say, "I feel teaching on human sexuality is one of the most important units and it's nice that the students have this unit."
Carbon High senior Mackenzie Fisher feels, "Everyone should wait to have sex until they are mature enough and out of high school."
School programs which teach pregnancy prevention and stress sexual abstinence are good ways students can learn more on the importance of abstinence. For information on sexual abstinence teens can check out the District Health Department or the CEU Health and Wellness Center in Price. Both services can assure access and services to teens who are sexually active.