Em-URGE-ing Voices

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The Truth about Teenage Pregnancy Rates

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December 9, 2013

Have you heard the news?

Pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates are at an all-time low for women ages 15-19.

This recent statistic most likely surprises a lot of people.  People often have the perception that teenage pregnancy is an “epidemic” among millennials, because we are clearly the most irresponsible and self-centered generation.

Recently, I have had several conversations about pregnancy rates in the US. Because of the work I do in reproductive justice, I’m asked about “all of these girls who get pregnant in their teens” (a cringey way of asking about teen pregnancy regardless). I often ask, “What do you mean? Teenage pregnancy is at an all-time low compared to the nineties.”

For one reason or another, these facts have escaped a lot of Americans. In fact, I would like to do a poll on the streets, similar to this one about Obamacare vs. the Affordable Health Care Act, asking, “Do you think that teenage pregnancy is on the rise?” or “Do you think teenage pregnancy is higher than it was 25 years ago?” I guarantee a lot of people would talk about how terrible teen pregnancy is nowadays compared to “back in their day.”

The media is mostly likely the culprit for spreading this perception of a teenage pregnancy “epidemic.” Shows like 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom and Secret Life of an American Teenager all hit television at the same time and created a conversation around teen parenthood – and not always a positive one. There was also a rise in advertisements by large national organizations, such as the Candie’s Foundation and National Campaign to End Teenage Pregnancy, toting all of the correlated negative outcomes of the children of teenage parents as a way to prevent pregnancy.

This new statistic should also remind us that shaming teenage parents is not okay in reproductive justice work. Costly campaigns in urban areas with slogans such as “preventing teen pregnancy” or that remind the world that children of teen parents have negative outcomes does not help prevent unintended pregnancy, but shames teenage parents into thinking that they are bad parents, regardless of their sacrifices and emotional maturity.

Since it’s around the holidays, it’s the perfect time to talk to your family and friends about teenage pregnancy rates (what a fun topic!).  If you family is gossiping about your teenage cousin Sally who is choosing to continue a pregnancy, remind them that teenage pregnancy rates are the lowest they have been in years and that Sally has the right to continue her pregnancy if she wants to. You can also talk with your friends about it when you start to run into people from your hometown, and engage in a conversation about the stigma that young parents face, including nasty gossip. This new statistic can serve as a great way to create meaningful dialogue about teen pregnancy rates.

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