Drop in teen pregnancies result of education, birth control, some say

By Diana McFarland

News editor

Over the past two decades, the number of pregnant teenagers reported annually in Isle of Wight and Surry counties has dropped by more than 60 percent.

Twenty-five years ago, Isle of Wight’s two high schools had as many as 10 pregnant teens at any one time, said Betty Entsminger, coordinator of safety, security, health, PE and driver’s education with Isle of Wight County schools.  

This year there is just one, she said. 

“We have seen a tremendous drop … this has been the biggest change in the county.” {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

In 1995, about 13 percent of girls up to age 19 in Isle of Wight became pregnant, according to data complied from the Virginia Department of Health and the U.S. Census. In Surry County, about 5.5 percent of teen girls up to age 19 were pregnant.

For girls up to age 18, five percent had become pregnant in Isle of Wight.

Nearly 20 years later, just 2.5 percent of girls up to age 19 in Isle of Wight and Surry counties were reported pregnant. In Surry County, all of the five pregnancies reported in 2013 were for girls age 18-19, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

While Isle of Wight was considerably above the percent of pregnant teens in Virginia in 1995 — 7 percent — both Isle of Wight and Surry were slightly below the state — 2.7 percent — in 2013.

The number of terminated (aborted) teen pregnancies has dropped in Isle of Wight County as the total number of pregnancies has declined. In 1985, there were 22 terminations out of 74 pregnancies. In 2013, there were 12 terminations out of 28 pregnancies, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

In Surry, there were 10 terminations out of 23 pregnancies in 1985 as compared to two terminations out of five pregnancies in 2013.

The Virginia Department of Health tracks pregnancies for girls up to age 19, and includes live births, stillbirths and terminations. Data is collected from live birth certificates, fetal death certificates and ITOP forms (induced termination of pregnancy) — all of which are required by law to be reported to vital statistics, said Debbie Condrey, chief information officer for the Virginia Department of Health.

Vital statistics uses the mother’s residence to determine what county or city to attribute the information, she said. 

Entsminger gives a good deal of credit to the drop in teen pregnancies to the family life program implemented by the commonwealth in 1989.

It was developed precisely because the teen pregnancy rate was so high in Virginia, said Entsminger, who initially helped develop the program in Isle of Wight County.

In 1985, about 21 percent of teenage girls in Isle of Wight County up to age 19 had become pregnant, according to data compiled from the Virginia Department of Health. In Surry, about 11 percent of teen girls became pregnant.

Entsminger said state officials also realized that the family structure was changing and such a program might cover areas that were falling through the cracks at home.

Sophenia Pierce, executive director for the Surry Office on Youth, also attributes the decline to public education, awareness and prevention efforts.

The Surry Office on Youth offers programs for both boys and girls that target preventative measures, provide mentoring and guide youth in positive and healthy choices.

Entsminger said family life education is sprinkled throughout the curriculum and begins in kindergarten.

It’s the ability to talk about these subjects in all of its aspects in an educational setting — including maternity clothes and the cost of diapers — that really makes it real for students, she said.

At one point, the high schools deployed fake babies — dolls that were programmed to cry if left unattended for too long — to really drive the message home.

“They were taught that this was really real — to see, smell and feel it,” Entsminger said.

The schools also encourage those who do become pregnant to remain in school and graduate. In decades past, they were simply sent away and that disrupted their education, Entsminger said.

However, the family life program was initially met with skepticism by many parents when it was first introduced, Entsminger said.

The first couple of years, there were more than 200 parental opt-out requests, but as parents became more informed, those requests dropped to just two last year, she said.

Parents, local officials and community members have always been invited to join SHAB (School Health Advisory Board) which reviews the FLE program each year. Their input is invaluable, Entsminger said.

“Open communication has always been a major goal when teaching Family Life Education in Isle of Wight County.  Community trust in the curriculum has noticeably strengthened through the years.”

Now as students move into the 21st century, they are typically far savvier than in previous years, and often point out methods of contraception that a teacher may fail to mention, Entsminger said.

With the advances of the Internet, they often know more than the adults, she said.

One local high school senior said there may be a variety of reasons the teen pregnancy rate is decreasing, but that it may not be as easy as statistics make it appear. 

She cites easy access to birth control, particularly the “Plan B” pill, as well as access to abortions and early pregnancy tests as one reason it appears the rate is decreasing.

The “Plan B” pill is sold at local drugstores and doesn’t require parental permission, she said. Some teens use abortion as a birth control device, she added.

“Plan B” can end a pregnancy if used within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse.

Another reason for the decline is education. Teens are shown how expensive and time-consuming a child can be — and how difficult it would be to go to college and take care of a baby at the same time, she said.  {/mprestriction}

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