A NEW FEDERAL study presents promising evidence that the nation has at last found a formidable way to assist teen-age mothers and to help prevent pregnancy in the first place.
The National Center for Health Statistics reports that not only are teen pregnancies on the decline -- continuing an eight-year trend -- but that young mothers are less likely to have a second child, a statistic which represents something of a breakthrough.
This is significant because one birth to a teen-ager is hardship enough on her and her family; a second child compounds their problems.
The center said the overall teen birth rate dropped 6 percent between 1991 and 1997 and second births to teens fell a remarkable 21 percent during the same period. The reasons: use of contraceptives, counseling by social workers, even reminders the youngsters to renew contraception prescriptions -- federally funded programs initiated after the huge increases in teen pregnancies during the 1980s.
Every state has experienced a drop in birth rates. Locally, teen births declined 15 percent in Maryland and Virginia and 11 percent in Washington.
Over the past three decades, teen pregnancy has been a political flash point, pitting liberals against conservatives over who was to blame for the moral climate that resulted in high pregnancy rates.
This study shows that the problem is not intractable. And it suggests that with more assistance to young girls -- and less political finger pointing -- birth rates might be reduced even more significantly.
At the very least, the drop in teen birth rates invites some serious reflection -- about the success that common-sense programs can yield when given a chance.
Pub Date: 12/23/98