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Education Reporter

Births to Teens Rose 3% from 2005 to 2006
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For the first time in 15 years, the nation's teen birth rate rose in 2006. Births to teens peaked in 1991, and declined steadily until the 3% rise last year.

Teens ages 15-19 gave birth to about 440,000 babies in 2006, which translates to 42 births per 1,000 girls in that age group. There were 40.5 births per 1,000 girls in that age group in 2005, and 62 births per 1,000 in 1991.

Officials from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) said the small increase may or may not presage a new upward trend. It could also be a one-year statistical anomaly. The decline in births to teens since 1991 has slowed down in recent years.

Opponents of abstinence-based sex education immediately blamed the rise in births on the programs they seek to eliminate. "Congress needs to stop knee-jerk approving abstinence-only funding when it's clear it's not working," said Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colorado). DeGette favors sex ed programs that emphasize birth control and condom usage. Planned Parenthood also made much of the CDCP report.

Reports of condom usage among teens, however, directly contradict the notion that abstinence education has led to rising rates of unprotected sex. In 2005, 63% of sexually active high schoolers said they used a condom the last time they had sex. In 1991, that percentage was only 46%. Furthermore, sexual activity among teenagers has declined in recent years.

Total births across all age groups rose 3% from 2005 to 2006. The fertility rate for Americans is now the highest it has been since 1971, at 2.1 children per woman over her lifetime.

Abortion is the factor that most media coverage of teen birth rates misses or ignores. The abortion rate among teenagers has declined steadily since its peak in 1988. The rate declined 40% between 1990 and 2000, during which time the birth rate to teens also declined, but only by 20%. The Guttmacher Institute released in January a report showing that abortion rates among all women continue to decline - in 2005, 19.4 women per 1,000 between the ages of 15 and 44 had abortions, down from a peak of 29.3 women per 1,000 in 1981. The Guttmacher report does not break down its results by the age of the women having abortions.

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