Six Babies a Day: Colorado’s Teen Pregnancy Problem

As high school seniors plan for Homecoming dances next month too many of their peers are coming home with something far more unexpected — a baby.

According to a new report by the Colorado Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Parenting and Prevention (COAPPP), every day six babies are born to Colorado teen mothers between the ages of 15-17, or one every four hours. The individual and societal costs of teen pregnancy and parenting in Colorado are stark:

  • Babies born to teen moms are more likely to be low birth weight which increases life-long health risks
  • 74 percent of teen moms receive prenatal care through Medicaid, compared to just one-quarter of women over the age of 25
  • 56 percent of teen moms report getting prenatal care further into their pregnancies in contrast to 17 percent of women over age 20
  • Teen childbirths cost state taxpayers $167 million; the figure leaps to $9.1 billion nationally

Sources: Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System, Colorado Dept of Public Health and the Environment and “By the Numbers,” National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

Source: “The State of Adolescent Sexual Health in Colorado 2007,” COAPPP

While Colorado is making some strides in reducing teen birth rates for older teens, their younger peers aren’t making nearly the same progress.

Lori Casillas, executive director of COAPPP, cites a January 2007 study published in the American Journal of Public Health that “attributes both improved contraception use and a delay in the initiation of sexual intercourse” as likely reasons for the 25 percent drop in statewide teen birth rates from 1991-2003. Nationally, the rate decreased by 33 percent.

“However, it’s important to note that Colorado’s decline in teen birth rates has not been as progressive as the national average for teen birth rates,” said Casillas. “Out of the 50 states, Colorado’s is ranked 43rd in the rate of decline in teen pregnancy, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.”

Casillas is careful to note that amidst the hubbub of abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education that the best defense against teen pregnancy is parents talking to their children.

“It’s important to recognize that supporting comprehensive sexuality education in schools in not in opposition to parental rights.  In fact, we encourage all parents to be very clear about the values they hold when it comes to sex and abstinence,” she explained. “Many times, parents assume that their children know where they stand when it comes to sex, but, on the contrary, youth report that they know very little about the values of their parents. It’s also important for adults to know that decades of research on comprehensive sex ed programs tell us that these programs do not increase the initiation of sexual activity, but in fact, support the delay of sexual initiation.”

Next: Teen births disproportionately affect girls of color. What are the facts and how is Colorado responding?