Reported drop in births to teens was exaggerated Officials admit that data used were incomplete


State officials who five weeks ago reported a sharp decline in the number of Maryland teens having babies acknowledged yesterday that their report was based on incomplete data and some of the claims were exaggerated.

The staff of the Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy had boasted that the number of babies born to girls under 18 had plunged by more than 13 percent -- to 2,899 -- between 1988 and 1990. They made the claim knowing the 1990 figure was not complete because it did not include births to Maryland girls who delivered in Washington hospitals, as many do every year.

The state is still waiting for the 1990 figure from Washington, which has not yet been tallied, but in each of the prior two years, about 250 Maryland girls gave birth in Washington hospitals. If a similar number were reported for 1990, the 2,899 figure would rise to 3,149. That would still mean that the number of births to Maryland adolescents fell over the two-year period, but the decrease would be about 6 percent -- or about half what the council had claimed.

In an interview yesterday, the council's executive director, Bronwyn Mayden, defended her decision to release a report that drew conclusions from incomplete data, noting that the report did label the 1990 findings as "preliminary." Ms. Mayden denied attempting to overstate the drop in teen births -- which the council attributes to its pregnancy prevention programs -- in an attempt to bolster support for those programs and forestall possible state budget cuts.

"We were very clear that those numbers were provisional numbers. We never hid that," Ms. Mayden said.

She also noted that one of the report's most impressive claims -- that births to school-age girls from Baltimore dropped by 10 percent over the two years, to 1,304 -- is not expected to change because girls from the city don't typically deliver in Washington hospitals.

"The story still stands that in Baltimore City, the numbers have gone way down, and the reason is because of the strategies that we're using," Ms. Mayden said. She cited a state-sponsored publicity campaign to encourage adolescents to postpone sexual activity until they are older, a pregnancy prevention curriculum taught in city schools, and family planning services available to teens in some city schools and other clinics.

In fact, it may be that Baltimore is doing far better than the rest of the state in tackling the problem of teen-age pregnancy. If the final figures for 1990 show that another 250 births to girls from outside Baltimore must be added to the Maryland statistics, then births to adolescents in the state's 23 counties will have dropped by only about 2 percent over the two-year period -- far less than the city's 10 percent drop.

"Baltimore is the only place in the state of Maryland where there has been a recognition that teen pregnancy is an issue," said Marisa Mirjafary, another member of the council's staff. "There's a false sense of security in the other counties, when they in fact have a teen pregnancy problem."

Council officials have said they believe the apparent decrease in adolescent births reflects a real decrease in the number of girls who are getting pregnant, not an increased reliance on abortions. The number of abortions obtained by Maryland girls under 18 appears to have dropped between 1988 and 1989, though officials caution the figures may not be accurate because clinics and hospitals that perform abortions are not required to report them to the state.

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