Almost two-thirds of Howard County teen-agers who become pregnant have abortions, one of the highest teen abortion rates in the state, according to a statewide pregnancy council.
The most recent figures from the Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy show that 62 percent of pregnant county teens had abortions, compared to 37 percent statewide. The figures, the most recent available, reflect births and abortions in 1989.
The county's affluence partly explains the high abortion rate, the council concluded.
"Research indicates that young ladies who are more likely to have abortions tend to be more goal-oriented and tend to come from a higher socio-economic status," said Marisa Mirjafaro, the council's research statistician.
"There's more demand on them to go to school.
"There's a perception that there's more for them to lose if they have a baby."
Howard's abortion rate matches Baltimore County's, but is higher than other areas, including Baltimore City and Anne Arundel and Carroll counties.
Accurate figures for Montgomery County could not be obtained because many teens there go to Washington, D.C., for the operation and the city does not report its abortion statistics to Maryland.
The council compiled its report using birth certificates and hospital and abortion clinic reports.
But because state law does not require that abortions be reported, the actual number may be higher, Ms. Mirjafaro said.
The 62 percent abortion rate from 1989 is the most complete onto date and reflects no change from 1988 figures, in which 179 out of 287 pregnant county teens -- or 62 percent -- had abortions
Earlier statistics were not available.
In Howard County, the 15-17 age group had the highest abortion rate.
Of pregnant teens in that group, 65 percent had abortions, the report said.
The figures are consistent with a newly released county health department report, which says that almost half of first unplanned pregnancies occur within the first six months of sexual activity.
County Health Officer Dr. Joyce Boyd said the numbers show a need for more education for teens.
"Like all teens, they don't think it could happen to them," she said.
OC Teens get family planning and sex education from sixth grade to
ninth grade in public schools, where self-esteem, peer pressure, abstinence, sexual diseases and birth control methods are discussed.
But the message often doesn't get through.
"A lot of people take it as a joke," said Heather Haggstrom, 17, a Wilde Lake High School junior.
"Even though you have the class, students miss the stuff."
Two years ago, abstinence was emphasized in curriculum changes for ninth-graders, who are required to take a quarter-semester health course to graduate.
And despite sex education in high school, some teens are still confused.
A recent schools survey, asking high school students what questions they have about sex, received such responses as "What is safe sex?" "What kind of birth control do you nTC recommend?" and "How do you know if you have a sexually transmitted disease?"
Mike Egan and James Zoller, 17-year-olds at Glenelg High School, said schools should start teaching about birth control as early as seventh grade, "because that's when students start thinking about it," James said.
"Teach more about contraceptives and condoms," Mike said.
Their comments echo what Peggy Schultz, a pupil personnel worker who gives talks on family planning, hears when she goes out to schools.
"What kids tell me routinely is they have a real need for more education and more support," she said.
"It's just not the schools' responsibility, it's everyone's responsibility," said Nancy Hudson, health educator for the governor's council.
"One of the things a community can do is to make family planning services more accessible to teens -- to make it more comfortable for teens if they're sexually active."
The county health department, meanwhile, runs two, free monthly teen clinics where community nurses give out three-for-free condoms and counsel teens on family planning and making choices.
The clinics operate the first and third Wednesdays at 10630 Little Patuxent Parkway, where the health department has an office.
Last year, Howard County was the first in the state to hold a Parent And Children Talking (PACT) Night, one of the governor's council programs to teach parents how to talk to their kids about sexuality.
Another PACT night has been scheduled for March, when PTAs around the county will sponsor discussions on how to answer questions students ask about sex.
An Oct. 22 meeting to encourage parents and churches to discuss sexuality with children has been planned by PACT.
PACT is a sub-committee for the Interdepartmental Committee on Adolescent Pregnancy, a coalition comprising the county's health, juvenile services, employment training and social services departments as well as the schools.
"We're not interested in promoting moral values," said Cindy Miller, PACT chairperson.
"We want to make sure they have the latest, most in-depth information," so they can discuss it with children.
Parents and Children Talking will sponsor a meeting for business people, clergy members and others from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Oct. 22 at the health education center at Howard County General Hospital. Call Cindy Miller at 740-7600 to make reservations.