Teen birth rates have been cut in half over the last decade, which is beneficial not only to young women but to Americans as a whole. The decline is attributed to public health outreach and better use of contraception.
President Donald Trump has put that access to contraception in jeopardy with his rollback of a rule that required employers, with some narrow exceptions, to include contraception, at no cost, in their health insurance plans.
This is a dangerous step backward that will lead to a rise in unwanted pregnancies — and abortions — among adult women and teenagers.
The teen birth rate in the United States has declined from 41.5 births per 1,000 teenage girls in 2007 to 20.3 births per 1,000 teenage girls in 2016, according to data from National Vital Statistics System.
The number of sexually active teens has remained about the same in recent years, but the percentage of teens using contraceptives has increased, leading to the drop in teen pregnancies.
“Our analysis indicates that improvement in contraceptive use accounted for all the decline in the [pregnancy risk index] from 2007 to 2012,” researchers concluded in a 2016 report.
By contrast, “abstinence-only programs have not demonstrated effectiveness in changing adolescent sexual behavior or in reducing teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections,” the report said.
The Trump administration has already quietly cut more than $200 million for ongoing research into the most effective ways to prevent unwanted teen pregnancies, a decision most likely driven by ideology rather than science.
Three-quarters of U.S. teen pregnancies are unplanned and nearly a third end in abortion, which is much higher than the overall abortion rate of 14.6 percent. That’s the lowest rate since 1973, the year of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.
The declining abortion rate is also linked to better access to contraception, especially since the Affordable Care Act required that birth control be covered at no cost by insurance plans. This allowed women access to more costly but also more effective contraception, such as IUDs and birth control pills.
If access to contraception is restricted, as Trump has allowed, abortion and teen pregnancy rates will rise. Most teenagers are covered by their parent’s employer-provided health insurance or by college and university plans, which now can object to covering contraception on moral grounds.
Rising teen pregnancy rates will not only cause young mothers to curtail their education or work, but it will cost taxpayers more money, as a Forbes columnist concluded. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teen pregnancy and childbirth accounted for at least $9.4 billion in costs to U.S. taxpayers in 2010.
Teen pregnancy has multi-generational consequences. Only half of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by age 22, compared with 90 percent of women who do not give birth as teens.
The children of teenage mothers also are more likely to drop out of high school. In addition, they are more likely to have more health problems, be incarcerated at some time during adolescence, give birth as teenagers, and face unemployment as young adults.
Through the Affordable Care Act, this cycle was weakened. With a short-sighted rule change, the Trump administration puts women, especially young women and poor women, at risk of having to forgo the contraception that allows them to control their future.