Birth rates for teens continue to decline

Md. figures have dropped for 7 years, but rate slows

May 31, 2000|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Maryland's teen birth rate has declined for the seventh consecutive year, but the rate of decrease has slowed to about half that of the previous two years, state officials said yesterday.

According to figures compiled by the state health department, 4.3 percent of girls ages 15 to 19 gave birth in 1998, the last year for which statistics are available. That marks a 20 percent drop from the 5.4 percent recorded in 1991, but only a slight decrease from 1997's 4.4 percent rate.

At a State House news conference, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend interpreted the numbers in a generally positive way but said "we have to keep fighting."

"It's good that it's come down seven years, but we still have to be concerned that it's too high," she said.

The announcement came as the state unveiled an advertising campaign intended to discourage teen-age pregnancy. The ads, based on the idea of a 13-year-old Crofton girl, will be displayed on billboards throughout the state.

Maryland's teen birth rate was 16 percent lower than the national figure of 5.1 percent. In general, Maryland's decline has kept pace with a the national decline in teen births from 6.2 percent in 1991.

Baltimore's teen birth rate continued to fall at a higher rate than those in other parts of the state, dropping from 9.4 percent in 1997 to 9 percent in 1998 for girls 15 to 19.

Statewide, 1.1 percent of girls younger than age 15 gave birth, down from 1.2 percent in 1997.

The figures released yesterday do not take into account pregnancies that ended in abortion.

Dr. Sushella Singh, research director at The Alan Guttmacher Institute in New York, said she wouldn't make too much of the one-year slowdown in the rate of decline nationally and in the state.

"There's a lot of room still to go down, and there's no reason to think we couldn't," Singh said.

At yesterday's news conference, officials unveiled the billboard based on an idea by Lauren Mello, an eighth-grader at Crofton Middle School. She said the message -- "Think first. Live your life before you make another" -- was inspired by a poem she found on the Internet. Her winning design was among 200 entries.

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