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Survey Finds Little Legislative Action on Teen-Age Pregnancy

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Washington--Most states have taken little or no action to address the problem of teen-age pregnancy, despite increasing pregnancy and birth rates among adolescents, a new report indicates.

State inaction on the issue is costly, it argues, because a large proportion of unwed teen-age mothers go on welfare rolls.

"This is a crisis," said Lulu Mae Hill Nix, director of the National Institute for Adolescent Pregnancy and Family Services at Temple University, in releasing the report at a conference here.

"The sexual revolution of the 1970's has gone from the college campuses to the high schools, and on down to junior high schools," she said.

In a survey sent to state legislators in 50 states last year, the institute requested information on legislation relating to teen-age pregnancy introduced since 1984.

In the 34 states for which re4sponses were received, a total of 121 such bills had been introduced over the past four years. Fifty-one of the bills failed, 48 were passed, and 22 are still pending, the survey found.

Most of the legislation that was passed was "fragmented," said Ms. Nix. What is needed, she said, is comprehensive legislation that addresses both the prevention of teen-age pregnancy and the provision of health and child-care services for girls who do become pregnant.

The states that have undertaken the most ambitious efforts to deal with the problem are California, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, according to the study.

Maryland's legislation comes the closest to being "comprehensive," Ms. Nix said.

State legislators said their bills failed primarily because of "poor community support" and a lack of effective lobbying.

To help legislators and lobbyists write effective legislation on teen-age pregnancy, the institute, in conjunction with Temple University's college of education, has developed a computer program that shows model bills and asks questions designed to tailor the legislation to the needs of different states, Ms. Nix said.

The institute has neither endorsed nor opposed school-based health clinics that dispense contraceptives, she added, because it considers research on the effectiveness of such clinics inadequate.

More information and copies of the report, "State Responses to the Teen-Age Pregnancy Crisis," can be obtained from the National Institute for Adolescent Pregnancy and Family Services, Room 409-410 Seltzer Hall, Temple University, 1700 North Broad St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19121; telephone: (215) 787-6208.--kg

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