Sixteen-month-old Tazia Atencio is pictured in 2011 with her teen mother Alexis Parker, 17, in their one-room apartment in Walsenburg. Colorado improved from having the 29th-lowest teenage birth rate in 2008 to having the 19th-lowest in 2012, according to the governor's office.

RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post

Sixteen-month-old Tazia Atencio is pictured in 2011 with her teen mother Alexis Parker, 17, in their one-room apartment in Walsenburg. Colorado improved from having the 29th-lowest teenage birth rate in 2008 to having the 19th-lowest in 2012, according to the governor's office.

Colorado's teen pregnancy rate plummets as Routt County maintains 1 of lowest rates in state

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— Colorado's teenage birth rate dropped significantly during the past five years, an achievement state health officials and the governor are attributing to an ambitious contraception program.

At a press conference earlier this month, Gov. John Hickenlooper had much praise for the Colorado Family Planning Initiative.

He and state health officials said it was behind a 40 percent drop in the state's teenage birth rate from 2009 to 2013.

The initiative, funded since 2009 by a grant from a private donor, provided low-income women across the state with more than 30,000 intrauterine contraceptive devices at low or no cost.

Colorado improved from having the 29th-lowest teenage birth rate in 2008 to having the 19th-lowest in 2012, according to the governor's office.

Here in Routt County, the teenage pregnancy rate remains one of the lowest in the state.

Routt saw 8.9 girls per every 1,000 ages 15 to 19 give birth in 2012, compared to the state's rate of 24 girls per every 1,000, according to state health records.

In Moffat County, the rate is significantly higher.

Moffat saw 38.5 girls per every 1,000 ages 15 to 19 give birth.

Most of the teenage births in Routt and Moffat came from 18- to 19-year-olds.

Preventing teenage pregnancies remains a top priority for local health officials.

"A lot of it is preventative education," Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association Public Health Director Charity Neal said. "We do some media work. Our family planning nurses work with the schools and work with the health clinics."

Neal said prevention is a big focus because teenage pregnancy is a topic that affects many other areas of public health.

"Once you start to win in that area (of teenage pregnancy prevention), you'll start to see a huge ripple effect," she said.

Neal said the VNA receives family planning money through the state's public health department.

She added contraceptives are among the tools used to prevent teenage and unintended pregnancies here, but it is part of a more holistic approach.

Hickenlooper and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said the statewide Family Planning Initiative saved the state millions of dollars in health care expenditures associated with teen births.

"But more importantly, it has helped thousands of young Colorado women continue their education, pursue their professional goals and postpone pregnancy until they are ready to start a family," Hickenlooper was quoted as saying in a press release about the initiative.

Not all groups in the state attributed the drop in the birth rate to the program, however.

Carrie Gordon Earll, the senior director of public policy for Focus on the Family, told The Denver Post earlier this month that she questioned the state's claims.

"What we have seen over many years is that access to contraception does not equal fewer unintended pregnancies and fewer abortions," Earll told the Post. "Availability of contraception leads to increased sexual activity, which leads to unintended pregnancies and abortions."

Research from the state shows that seven in 10 teen pregnancies in Colorado are unintended.

According to the CDPHE, unintended pregnancies come with many health risks, including birth defects, low birth weight, maternal depression, elective abortions and a higher degree of potential child abuse, among other things.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

Comments

Melinda Clark 2 months, 1 week ago

Last year, I spoke with the woman at the state level who is responsible for producing and overseeing surveys for the state to assess behavioral risk factors. We specifically discussed the Healthy Kids Colorado survey which is administered to students, but in that context talked about the wording that the state uses for all their surveys. My question to her was, is the state really measuring teen pregnancies, or is it measuring teen deliveries? The reason I asked that question is that I found it misleading for the state to release data about teen pregnancy rates, when what they really mean is that they are releasing data about how many girls between the ages of 15-17 delivered a baby. They are not actually measuring how many girls ages 13-18 became pregnant, regardless of outcome.

The woman with whom I was speaking immediately agreed. She said, it's true that the state doesn't measure how many teenagers become pregnant; they only track how many teens deliver. Which makes reports like this one misleading, because we don't actually have factual data on how many teenagers in our state become pregnant, regardless of whether the pregnancy ended with a delivery, stillbirth, miscarriage, or abortion. She also told me that no one will try to track that data; it's just too controversial. Regrettably, that means that we're not looking at a complete picture. We're not truly talking about teen pregnancy rates when the state releases studies like this one.

If fewer teens are dealing with the difficult questions that arise around unintended pregnancies, I'd be glad for that. But this study really doesn't tell me whether that's true. I don't know from this study how many teens are dealing with the emotional and physical trauma of a pregnancy that didn't go to term. And that doesn't even begin to touch all the other issues that teens deal with when they are sexually active; pregnancy is only one of several issues that threaten teens' well-being when they're having sex. Maybe this study gives us a minimal reason to celebrate. We don't know. We don't have the whole picture.

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Scott Wedel 2 months, 1 week ago

Melinda,

No way to accurately know local teen abortion rate. That gets into private medical information not all of which is even known locally.

The important part of contraception is the acceptance that some teens will have sex regardless. So then it makes sense to help them to avoid getting pregnant. That there is a statistically significant lower teen birth rate suggests it is at least effective.

Note that the rate is per 1,000 so the program is trying to work with the right 2% of teenage females to avoid getting pregnant until ready.

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