Fewer Kids in Maternity Wards (Fewer Babies, Too)

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Are they just saying no or are they becoming much more skilled with condoms? While teenagers will probably never divulge the rationale for their behavior, the National Center for Health Statistics reports that the rate of births to teenagers fell in 1998 for the seventh straight year. The number of high school-age kids having babies is at its lowest rate in 40 years. The drop-offs were particularly sharp among black teenagers, whose birth rate has plunged 26 percent since 1991. While birth rates indicate that two thirds of teen pregnancies end in abortion or miscarriages, the good news is that teen pregnancy rates are also down to their lowest rates since 1976, the year government agencies started keeping track.

This is certainly good news, and predictably, it's being celebrated in different communities for very different reasons. Advocates of abstinence, whose movement has gained popularity in both high schools and colleges in the last several years, point to these numbers as proof their message is getting across. Sex educators, who want condoms and other forms of birth control to be available to kids who are having sex, link the lower pregnancy rates to more frequent and effective use of birth control among teens. But no single group should toot its own horn too vigorously, says TIME medical writer Christine Gorman, as the lower rates are no doubt due to a combination of factors.