The Truth about Teenage Birth Rates


Iím guessing most of you have heard the news about the teen birth rate. Recent figures reveal that births to teenaged women have reached the lowest point in 60 years. But donít get your party hats out just yet.

Mary Beth Bonacci

Itís easy for those in the ďanti-teen-motherhoodĒ campaigns to want to celebrate. After all, teenaged girls shouldnít be parents, right? We donít want them having babies. So any time we hear that fewer of them are having babies, itís good news. Right?

Well, to quote a recent political figure, thatís like saying thereís no difference between the veterinarian and the taxidermist because both give you your dog back.

Why are fewer teenagers giving birth? Is it because, as one commentator speculated, that teenaged girls are more sexually conservative these days? Is it because, as sex education-types claim, that teens are conscientious users of birth control? Or is there something still more ominous behind these figures?

According to the Family Research Council, there is indeed something ominous going on. In digging around, they found the following: In 1999, there were 49.6 births for every 1,000 girls age 15-19. Thatís indeed the lowest rate in 60 years. But, the question remains: how many pregnancies were there? In 1997 (the last year for which we have figures) there were 90.7 pregnancies for every 1,000 girls in the same age group.

So what happened to these other pregnancies? A certain (relatively small) percentage obviously ended in miscarriage. But a whopping 53.8 per thousand of these pregnant teenagers never showed up in the teen birth rate because they aborted their pregnancies. This, if my memory serves correctly, is an increase over previous years, when roughly one-third of pregnant teenagers deliberately terminated their pregnancies.

This, my friends, is no reason to celebrate.

Sure, itís a good thing to have fewer teen mothers, especially of the unwed variety. But Iíd rather have a world crawling with teen mothers than one in which we slice babies into pieces before they can show up in those nasty statistics.

This is why Iíve always had a bit of a problem with the anti-teen-pregnancy campaigns. You know, like the ďBaby, Think It OverĒ dolls that cry their annoying little battery-operated cry 24 hours a day, to convince kids that having a kid themselves would be the worst thing that could happen. Sure, itís tough to be a teen mother. Sure it changes their lives. Sure itís not best for a baby, itís not best for a teen mom and itís not best for a teen dad. But how are we going to prevent it?

If a campaign focuses on pregnancy and teen motherhood as the primary problem, then the baby becomes the ďenemy.Ē Itís not having sex thatís the problem. Itís having a baby. And what are these girls left believing? ďItís okay to have sex, just donít have a baby.Ē They may contracept, they may not. If they do, itíll probably fail at some point, as all contraceptives do. And what then?

Ask the 53.8 of every thousand girls in 1997. Theyíll tell you. They went to get rid of the pregnancy. Because that, not the sex, was the real problem. And Iíll bet that most of them, if they were really honest with you and themselves, would tell you that they paid a horrendous price for it, and will continue to pay that price for the rest of their lives.

The message of chastity is so much deeper, so much more beautiful than this. It doesnít tell us that babies are bad. It tells us that theyíre good, theyíre an absolutely miraculous gift from God. And theyíre best served within the context of a loving, stable family.

But babies arenít even central to the real message of chastity. We arenít called to live respect for the gift of sexuality simply because we might get pregnant while unmarried. If that were true, infertile women would apparently have the license to do whatever they pleased sexually. But theyíre not. Weíre called to save sex for marriage because, on every level, it speaks a language of permanent, committed love. It says, ďI give myself to you, to be at your side forever.Ē

Taking sex out of that context causes damage on every level. Yes, unwed pregnancy and its concurrent injustice to children is one of those. But not the only one. It also causes physical damage in the form of horrible, nasty, contagious diseases. It causes emotional scars which can and do last a lifetime. It causes a spiritual rupture between ourselves and the God who loves us, the One who gave us this amazing gift in the first place.

Reducing chastity to another form of teenage birth control is doing nobody any favors. Itís leading young girls ó as well as young men ó down a path bound directly for heartache. Itís hurting their ability to make good marital decisions. Itís cheapening the most beautiful gift they have. And itís leaving their children in pieces at the bottom of a trash can.


Bonacci, Mary Beth. ďThe Truth about Teenage Birth Rates.Ē The Arlington Catholic Herald (August 24, 2000).

Published with permission of the Arlington Catholic Herald.


Mary Beth Bonacci is the founder of Real Love Incorporated and the the author of We're on a Mission from God: The Generation X Guide to John Paul II, the Catholic Church, and the Real Meaning of Life and Real Love: The Ultimate Dating, Marriage and Sex Question Book (Ignatius, 1996).

Copyright © 2000 Arlington Catholic Herald

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