Adolescent pregnancy &
in the U.S.
Comparison with European data.
Reducing abortions by reducing unwanted pregnancies:
Every time that an unwanted pregnancy is prevented -- either by:
Avoiding sexual activity or
Switching from a sexual act that is at a high risk for pregnancy to a
less risky activity, or
By using safer sex, or
By using emergency contraception (a.k.a. EC, "morning after pill") after
intercourse if necessary,
then one abortion may also have been prevented.
Laws that restrict access to abortion clinics will also reduce the number of
abortions. However, this approach has its limits. Women can and do go to adjacent
states with more liberal laws to obtain their abortion. If necessary, they can
travel to another country. Some stay in their home state and seek illegal abortions.
Adolescent abortions in the U.S.:
Even as the number of American adolescents has gradually increased, the
number of abortions has gone down markedly, at least among whites and blacks. It
has increased slightly among Hispanics from:
Numbers of induced abortions, in thousands, for teenagers
15 to 19
As of early 2009, data for 2002 is the most recent available. 2
The Division of Reproductive Health, National Center for Chronic Disease
Prevention and Health Promotion of the Centers for Disease control wrote:
There have been significant declines in pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates
for teenagers over the past decade. From 1990 to 2002, the pregnancy rate among
15 to 17 year-olds decreased 42%, from 77.1 per 1,000 females to 44.4. The
birth rate declined 45%, from its peak at 38.6 per 1,000 in 1991 to 21.4 per
1,000 in 2005.3 In 2002, more than 750,000 pregnancies among U.S. teenagers,
aged 15 to 19 years resulted in 425,000 live births, 215,000 abortions, and 117,000
Though we are close to the overall decreased teen pregnancy goal for 2010 for
the nation, major disparities in pregnancy and birth rates and contraceptive use
exist when we look at data by race/ethnicity and for individual states. Black
and Hispanic youth are disproportionately affected compared to whites. For
example, 2002 pregnancy rates for Non-Hispanic black and Hispanic teenagers aged
15 to 17 were similar (88.4 and 85.1 per 1000, respectively). Both were about 3.5
times the rate of non-Hispanic white teens (25.1 per 1,000) and double the
Healthy People 2010 goal of 43.0. A wide range of teen birth rates are seen
among states, ranging from 62.6 (Texas) to 18.2 (New Hampshire) per 1,000 in
International comparisons show that the United States could do much better in
improving teen pregnancy and birth rates. U.S. teen pregnancy and teen birth
rates are the second highest among 46 countries in the developed world. These
data show that U.S. teens' sexual behavior is similar to teens of other
developed countries in terms of when they start to have sex and how often they
are having it. Yet, U.S. teens are less likely to use contraception or to
consistently use more effective methods of contraception when compared to the
teens of several other developed countries. Recent data show that 77% of the
decline in teen pregnancy rates among U.S. teens aged 15 tp 17 years is because
teens have increased their use of contraception and 23% of the decline is
because teens are having less sex. Among older U.S. teens, 18 to 19 years, this
data showed that all the reduction in pregnancy risk was related to increased
contraceptive use. Effective pregnancy prevention programs exist that have been
shown to be successful at delaying intercourse initiation and increasing rates
of contraceptive use. For example, Advocates for Youth has published
reports which highlight U.S. based programs, Science and Success: Sex
Education and Other Programs That Work to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, HIV & Sexually
Transmitted Infections. Although this is encouraging, much work remains to
identify additional innovative interventions that address the social, cultural,
and environmental influences on teen pregnancy. There is also a need to find
better ways of disseminating evidence-based approaches to teen pregnancy
prevention, so that effective interventions are more widely used. 3
Many western European countries have numerous points of similarity to the
U.S. For example:
They share a Christian heritage, although the decline in Christian
affiliation is far more advanced in Europe than it is in North America.
They are democracies.
Many immigrants to
the U.S. originally came from Europe.
However, many European countries tend
to have a much lower adolescent pregnancy, live birth, and abortion
rates than does the United States. If the cause(s) of this difference can be
isolated and applied in the U.S., then adolescent abortion rates could
be drastically reduced.
Comparison of abortion statistics in the U.S., France, Germany and the
Advocates for Youth report the following annual rates, per thousand
Thepercentages show the rate for each country expressed as a
percentage of the U.S. value. For example, the Netherlands abortion rate per
year is 4.2 per thousand adolescents which is about 15% of the American figure.
What would happen if the U.S. rates could be reduced to Europe's?
number of abortions during 2002 by adolescents in the U.S. would be reduced by about:
135,000 if the U.S. rate was lowered to that of France,
171,000 if the rate was lowered to that of Germany.
182,000 if the rate was lowered to that of the Netherlands,
Lowering the adolescent abortion rate would probably also reduce the rate of
abortions among older women as well. It is not beyond reason to hope that the current
number of abortions -- over one
million per year -- could be eventually reduced to a few hundred thousand if
European policies were adopted!
Lowering the number of live births and abortions would also have a significant impact on
the quality of lives among adolescents. For example:
Many young women's lives are disrupted and their educational goals
either delayed or terminated because of an unwanted pregnancy that is
carried to term.
A small percentage of women suffer from the extreme long-lasting
depression of Post Abortion Syndrome (PAS) after
having an abortion.
Advocates for Youth also have listed sexually transmitted disease
prevalence rates for HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, and chlamydia. Rates in the U.S.
range from 6 to 74 times higher than whichever of the above three European
states has the lowest values.
supporters of the pro-life movement, the stakes are extremely high. Most believe
that human life becomes a human person at
conception. Thus one fewer abortion means one fewer murder of a human being. Preventing the deaths through abortion of hundreds of
thousands of embryos and a much smaller number of fetuses would be of immense
importance to pro-lifers. However, among many pro-lifers who are also Roman
Catholics, reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies through the use of
contraception is unacceptable.
What does Europe do differently?
Advocates for Youth and the University of North Carolina sponsor a
tour each year to these three European countries to help "policy makers,
researchers, youth serving professionals, foundation officers and youth"
understand why there is such a large difference between American and European statistics on
numbers of pregnancies, abortions, and live births.
They find that:
"Each of these nations has an unwritten social contract with young
people: 'We'll respect your right to act responsibly, giving you the tools
you need to avoid unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections,
The public in these European countries:
Assign a high priority to the reduction of unintended pregnancy,
abortion and STDs.
Anticipate that youths will be sexually active and expect them to act responsibly.
Base their policies primarily on research.
Are not heavily influenced by political and religious advocacy groups.
Make condoms and other contraceptives readily available to young people
at low or no cost.
Provide comprehensive education programs in the schools.
Provide extensive public educational programs using a wide range of
The end results are that:
Adolescent sexual activities are regarded as a normal enjoyable and
expected part of life.
"... young people believe it is 'stupid and irresponsible' to have
sex without protection." Many "use the maxim, 'safer sex or no sex'."
Advocates for Youth promote the adoption of the European model towards
sex. They have created a "Rights. Respect. Responsibility
national campaign to achieve this.
Ammie Feijoo, "Adolescent Sexual Health in Europe and the U.S. -- Why the
Difference?" Advocates for Youth, 2001-OCT, at:
They cite four sources for pregnancy, birth and abortion rates:
S.J. Ventura et al., "Trends in pregnancy rates for the
United States, 1976-97: an update," National Vital Statistics
S. Singh & L.R. Darroch, "Adolescent pregnancy and childbearing: levels
and trends in developed countries," Family Planning Perspectives
J. Rademakers, "Sex Education in the Netherlands." Paper
presented to the
European Study Tour. Utrecht, Netherlands: NISSO, 2001.
J.A. Martin et al., "Births: preliminary data for 2000,", National Vital Statistics Reports. 2001;49(5):1-20.
Stephanie J. Ventura, "Recent Trends in Teenage Pregnancy in the United
States, 1990-2002," National Center for Health Statistics, Table 1, at:
"Adolescent Reproductive Health," Centers for Disease Control, 2008-APR-24,