Study shows slight decrease in teen pregnancy
West Virginia is seeing slight decreases in teenage pregnancy, according to a recent report released by a pro-choice nonprofit group.
Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of WV FREE, a reproductive rights organization, said since the group began reporting on teenage pregnancy and childbearing in 2010, there has been a small decrease.
"West Virginia has a disproportionate rate of teen births, but we are making progress," Pomponio said. "We're seeing more productive collaborations in response to our high rate of teen pregnancy."
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Adolescent Health, West Virginia's birth rate among 15- to 19-year-olds was 44.8 per 1,000 teenagers in 2010 - the ninth highest teenage birth rate in the country.
While the national rate declined between 2007 and 2011, the rate among 15- to 17-year-olds in West Virginia increased by 17 percent.
On average, one in 22 teenage girls in West Virginia will become pregnant, according to the federal agency.
The rising statistic garnered statewide attention in 2008 and acted as a catalyst for organizations in West Virginia to combat the issue, Pomponio said.
"I think drawing attention to it was the first step and using the facts and the data to propel the collaborative approach forward," Pompiono said.
"Any time as West Virginians we get a negative statistic thrown at us, we work hard to try to address it, and that's certainly been the case with teen pregnancy and healthy youth."
WV FREE began reporting on teen pregnancy in 2010 in an effort to raise awareness of the rising numbers and help address the problem. The birth rate dipped slightly from 49.7 per 1,000 teenagers in 2005 to 2009 to 44.8 in 2010.
Pomponio said the decrease likely was due to a collaborative approach that includes community organizations and community-based initiatives working with the state Department of Health and Human Resources, the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, and others to improve health education, expand access to contraceptives and prepare youths for parenting.
"The report really highlights specific best practices and policies that will help improve health education, increase access to health care and expand knowledge of health care available to teens and their parents," Pomponio said.
"We've been working on framing this issue as a positive opportunity so that youth and parents and educators and health care providers can feel empowered to move forward rather than the negative, heavy weight of statistics.
"When young people are in control of their reproductive lives, they are much more likely to be in control throughout their lives - make healthier decisions and contribute to healthier communities in West Virginia."
West Virginia spends $67 million on teen childbearing, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. In addition to that cost, teen childbearing is associated with high dropout rates, reduced academic achievement and poverty, according to WV FREE.
To continue to reduce the number of teen pregnancies in West Virginia, WV FREE offers a number of strategies: expanding the hours of operation for primary care centers, enabling timely youth access to emergency contraception, implementing comprehensive, evidence-based sexuality education, ensuring community activities are available to young people, assessing parental attitudes toward sex education and supporting an honest, open approach to sexuality.
"WV FREE is really heartened by the commitment and attention to this issue by policy makers, educators, health care providers, parents, state agencies and private agencies," Pomponio said.
She said the decrease indicates the collaborative approach is working and needs further support.