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The number of teen births in America has seen record declines, but compared to most Western European countries, the U.S. still leads in the number of teen births – this according to census data released in December.   Europe averages 24 teen births per 1,000 (girls ages 15 to 19) while the U.S. averages 39 births per 1,000.  Several European countries have rates lower than 10 per 1,000 with Sweden having a rate of 4 per 1,000.

Some have suggested that the higher U.S. teen birth rate is related to lack of availability or restriction on abortion.  Yet the 2007 U.N. numbers show the U.S. abortion rate to be identical to Sweden’s – 20 per 1,000.

Some point to lack of sex education and inadequate access to contraception in the U.S.  A report by the National Center for Health Statistics determined that 95 percent of teens in the U.S. have had “formal instruction” in sex education.  What did these students recall from their time in Sex Ed classes?  “How to say ‘No’ to sex” was recalled by 87 percent of teen girls and 81 percent of boys while “methods of birth control” information was retained by 70 percent of girls and 62 percent of boys.  Keep in mind that less than 50 percent of teens are sexually experienced.

Another federal report showed that of approximately 3.6 million teen girls who are “at risk of unintended pregnancy” (meaning they are sexually active) 81 percent are using a birth-control method.  Although you might want that number to be higher than 81 percent, this is not exactly a population that doesn’t know about or have access to birth control.  In addition, when you look at sexually experienced women age 15 to 44, 99 percent of them say they have used some form of birth control in their lives.  Birth control appears to be quite available and pervasive in U.S. culture.

According to a Health and Human Services report released the summer of 2010, the cost of birth control, insurance coverage, and lack of access were only minor reasons women say they stopped using “the pill.”  The majority of women (13 million) who stopped cited “side effects” as the reason, while 1.3 million stopped its usage because the pill was too difficult to use.  But here’s a reason that should give everyone pause… 1.4 million women stopped using the pill because they got pregnant while taking it.

If you’re thinking condoms is the answer, think again.  Planned Parenthood’s own Guttmacher Institute states that in the prevention of pregnancy, condoms will fail 25.8 percent of the time when used by children under the age of 18.

The question remains: why the difference in the U.S. teen birth rate and Western Europe’s teen birth rate?  Anyone want to weigh in?

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