Abortions Said Rising Among Minority Teenagers, Girls Under Age 15

By Ellen Flax — May 01, 1991 2 min read
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Although the overall abortion rate has declined over the past decade, the rate for minority adolescents and young girls under age 15 has increased, a new study has found.

The study, conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Alan Guttmacher Institute using their own data and that of the National Center for Health Statistics, found that the overall abortion rate declined 6 percent between 1980 and 1987, the latest year for which comprehensive data are available.

But the study, which appears in the March/April issue of Family Planning Perspectives, the Guttmacher Institute’s journal, found that the abortion rate of those younger than 15 increased 18 percent, from 8.4 to 9.9 per 1,000 women.

The increase reflects the fact that more women are sexually active at ever-younger ages, the authors said.

About 1.6 million women have sought abortions each year since 1980. In 1987, most women who had abortions were young, white, and unmarried, the study found. One-quarter of these women were teenagers, and a third were between 20 and 24.

The study also found a growing disparity in pregnancy and abortion rates between white and minority teenagers ages 15 to 19. Among white girls in this age group, the pregnancy rate declined 6 percent, from 96 to 90 pregnancies per 1,000 girls, even though a greater percentage of them were sexually active in 1987 than earlier in the decade. The abortion rate for white girls this age also declined, from 38 to 36 per 1,000 between 1980 and 1987.

These declines can be explained by increased contraceptive use by non-Hispanic white teenagers, the authors wrote.

In contrast, the abortion and pregnancy rates for minority girls increased. The pregnancy rate rose 2 percent between 1980 and 1987; the rate had dropped from 186 per 1,000 in 1980 to a low of 181 in 1984, but increased to 189 in 1987. The abortion rate also rose 11 percent for these teenagers, from 66 per 1,000 in 1980 to 73 in 1987.

“Thus, the gap in ability to prevent pregnancy is widening between minority and white adolescents ages 15-19,” the authors wrote.

The study also found that the highest abortion rate in 1987 was among women ages 18 and 19, who had 62 abortions per 1,000.

In another study in the same issue of the journal, researchers from Johns Hopkins University found that teenage girls who used oral contraceptives were unlikely to use condoms to avoid getting sexually transmitted diseases.

Only 16 percent of 308 adolescent girls surveyed used condoms consistently over a six-month period, yet 30 percent were considered to be at high risk of contracting an std since they had multiple sex partners.

The study found that girls who were taking birth-control pills used condoms as a back-up method to prevent pregnancy, and for condom users, this was their primary birth-control method. In this study, only 4 percent of the girls used condoms and the pill consistently.

Family-planning clinics need to strongly encourage teenagers to consistently use condoms for disease prevention, whether or not they use the pill for birth control, the authors concluded.

A version of this article appeared in the May 01, 1991 edition of Education Week as Abortions Said Rising Among Minority Teenagers, Girls Under Age 15


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