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US teen pregnancy rise blamed on abstinence p -

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ELEANOR HALL: New data shows there's been an increase in teenage pregnancy in the United States for
the first time in a decade. Critics are blaming the rise on the abstinence education programs that
were implemented in the school system during the Bush years.

But the abstinence education providers are maintaining that their programs work, as Carly Laird
reports.

CARLY LAIRD: The release overnight of the latest analysis of teen pregnancy data in the US is
showing a worrying trend.

LAWRENCE FINER: The steep decline in the teen pregnancy rate in the United States that we've seen
since the 1990s has come to a halt. The teen pregnancy rate in the US declined from 1990 to 2005
but from 05 to 06 we actually saw an increase of 3 per cent in the teen pregnancy rate.

CARLY LAIRD: That translates to 750,000 teenagers. Lawrence Finer is a researcher at the non-profit
and non-partisan Guttmacher Institute in New York. He was involved in the analysis.

LAWRENCE FINER: There could be a number of explanations for it. We do know that the big teen
pregnancy decline that occurred in the 1990s was primarily due to improved and increased
contraceptive use among adolescents and we do also know that there has been some levelling off of
contraceptive use increases among teens in the 2000s.

CARLY LAIRD: Debra Hauser, from sexual health group Advocates for Youth, says while she's
disappointed at the rise, she's not surprised.

DEBRA HAUSER: The United States have had about 10 years now of abstinence only till marriage
education and this is education that excludes or prohibits educators from teaching about
contraception and condoms to young people, young people in high school.

So chances are many of them are not learning to protect themselves and that policy included things
such as you needed to teach that abstinence is the only form of acceptable human behaviour, that
young people who had premarital sex were likely to suffer from psychological and emotional harm as
well as physical harm and educators were prohibited from providing information on contraception
beyond failure rates.

CARLY LAIRD: Valerie Huber is the executive director of the National Abstinence Education
Association. She maintains that the rise in pregnancy figures don't reflect flaws in her programs.

VALERIE HUBER: Many of our programs actually talk about contraception but it's all within the
context of why the healthiest choice for young people is to wait to have sex. We actually provide
information and skills that encourage young people to understand how to identify healthy
relationships, get out of unhealthy relationships, the importance of future orientation and goal
setting in addition to refusal skills and information on sexually transmitted disease and avoiding
them.

So you know, there's an awful lot of topical material included in an abstinence program.

CARLY LAIRD: She says there are many reasons why the rise might have occurred.

VALERIE HUBER: Unfortunately our youth are living in a hyper-sexualised society in which teenage
sex is almost an expected standard, and they're given the misinformation that they can engage in
sexual experimentation without any consequences and that's just not accurate.

We know that young people are inherent risk takers, and so even if they think that somebody else
might get an STD or someone else might get pregnant, it's not going to be them.

CARLY LAIRD: But Debra Hauser from Advocates for Youth says the abstinence programs aren't
realistic.

DEBRA HAUSER: About half of all young people have had sex by age 17 and that is true throughout the
developed or industrialised world. So the only way young people can deal with sexuality is to try
to deny it and push it down, they can't be prepared, so the young people here often tell us that
they don't carry condoms, they're not on contraception, they haven't gotten birth control because
they're afraid to admit that they're going to have sex or that they're sexually active.

CARLY LAIRD: Lawrence Finer, from the Guttmacher Institute which conducted the research, says time
will tell if the figures trend down once again.

LAWRENCE FINER: We don't know for certain whether this is just a blip or whether it's the beginning
of a larger upward trend. But we do have a little bit of information for 2007 which indicates that
teen births, which is a component of pregnancies, have increased, so we may see a continued trend
upward in the US.

CARLY LAIRD: In Australia, the teen birth rate is much lower than in the United States. In 2006 the
US birth rate for females aged between 15 and 19 was 42 births per 1,000 women while in Australia
it was only around 15.

ELEANOR HALL: Carly Laird reporting.