Teen pregnancies drop to a new low, abortions continue to decline

Monday, July 26 2010

The teenage pregnancy rate in Canada has hit an all-time low and the teen abortion rate has fallen to its lowest level in more than a decade, according to a new report.

The number of unwanted pregnancies among adolescents and young adults has fallen principally because they are using birth control, said Alex McKay, research co-ordinator at the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada, and author of the study.

"It's due to greater contraceptive use, not teens having less sex," he said.

Despite the improved numbers, more than 33,000 young women under the age of 19 still get pregnant each year, and almost 18,000 opt for abortion. Close to 15,000 teenage girls give birth each year in Canada.

While the pregnancy rate is falling, sexually transmitted infections such as chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are soaring among young people, and that points to poor sex education, Linda Capperauld, executive director of the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, said in an interview.

"We continue to focus on unintended pregnancy, but we're neglecting to give young people the tools to ensure their long-term sexual health," she said.

Ms. Capperauld said that oral contraceptives (commonly referred to as the Pill) remain the birth control of choice among teenage girls and that they and their partners are neglecting to use condoms to protect themselves from infections.

Both contraception and abortion were legalized in Canada in 1969.

The research, published in today's edition of The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, shows that the teen pregnancy rate in Canada fell to 32.1 per 100,000 population in 2003 from 53.9 per 100,000 in 1974.

During the same period, the teen abortion rate increased to 17.1 per 100,000 from 13.9 per 100,000. However, the number of teens having abortions has fallen steadily since 1994.

Live births, for their part, fell to 14.4 per 100,000 from 35.7 per 100,000, meaning there are now far fewer teen moms.

The study also shows striking regional differences in the number of teen pregnancies.

Nunavut has the highest teen pregnancy rate, with young women there getting pregnant at five times the rate of those in Prince Edward Island, which has the lowest rate.

Over all, the teen pregnancy rate is highest in the North and in rural areas.

That's not surprising, Ms. Capperauld said, "because they just don't have the services" such as sexual health clinics, pharmacies that sell birth control to teens, and abortion clinics.

She said that, over all, sex education in schools is poor and in many regions of the country non-existent. "It's amazing that our teen pregnancy rate is falling despite the spotty education," Ms. Capperauld said.

Mr. McKay said there are also social, cultural and economic factors that help explain regional differences.

He said, for example, that teen pregnancy is more accepted in aboriginal communities. Research has also shown that where women - and young women, in particular - have access to good health care, education and employment opportunities, teen pregnancy rates decline.

"To encapsulate, we know that when adolescent women see hope for their future, they tend to take more direct, concerted action to control their reproductive health," Mr. McKay said.

In Canada, there are about 330,000 lives birth each year, and about 110,000 abortions.

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