In one sense, the figures coming from the Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy have some positive things to say about the frequency of teen births and abortions in Howard County.
Not only does the county have some of the lowest overall numbers of teen births and abortions in the metropolitan region, it ranks last in the rate of teen births and third lowest in the rate of abortions, behind only Harford and Carroll counties.
Those relatively low rates support the notion that teen-aged girls who come from middle- and upper-middle income homes are less likely to get pregnant because they believe they would not achieve their educational and personal goals if they did. And just as socio-economic status appears to hold down the number of births to teen mothers, it also may serve to drive up the number of abortions as more young women turn to this option when they perceive they've made a mistake.
None of this, however, should be entirely comforting to the residents of Howard. As staff writer Lan Nguyen pointed out in an article last month, nearly two-thirds of the county's teen-agers who become pregnant have an abortion. While 37 per cent of pregnant teens have abortions statewide, the rate in Howard soars to 62 percent.
Our strong support of a woman's right to choose an abortion does not preclude an equally strong belief that adolescents need to be taught about abstinence and proper birth control as the two best lines of defense against an unwanted pregnancy. That apparently is not being done well enough in Howard County.
Right now, Howard teens' only exposure to sex education in the public schools occurs during one-quarter of a semester in ninth grade. Many teens need information sooner and in more detail then the current system allows. In a world where sexual messages pervade the culture, families need to prepare their children for the situations and choices that face many teens today.
Finally, the governor's council warns that its numbers may be skewed because many abortions go unreported. In that case, it would be foolish to assume Howard teens are inoculated against unwanted pregnancy and abortion simply because their relatively higher status gives them a better foothold on the future. Status may help, but much more needs to be done.