The bad news: The state still has the second-highest teen birthrate in the nation. Only Mississippi has a higher rate.
Still, the state’s progress is significant. In 2000, about 6.5 percent of New Mexico women ages 15 to 19 gave birth, according to a state Health Department report for that year. In 2010, a national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released Tuesday shows, the rate had fallen to 5.3 percent.
“I’m really thrilled,” said Sylvia Ruiz, executive director of the New Mexico Teen Pregnancy Coalition. “The credit needs to go to the young people. They’re listening, they’re getting it, they’re understanding that their future will be diminished if they don’t make appropriate decisions now.”
Among younger teens, the difference is even more dramatic. The rate for girls ages 15 to 17 was 4.4 percent in 1998, and dropped to 2.6 percent in 2010, according to the state Health Department.
The rest of the country is improving as well, and faster in many places. Sixteen states showed at least twice the improvement New Mexico did between 2007 and 2010, the CDC report shows.
In 2010, the country as a whole had a teen birthrate of 3.4 percent, the lowest ever recorded in the measurement’s seven-decade history.
The CDC report credits pregnancy prevention messages for the decline in births and points out that surveys showing increased use of contraception and dual methods of contraception — such as using both condoms and birth control pills — may have something to do with the nationwide decrease.
In New Mexico, the drop is part of a long trend that the state attributes to increasingly successful programs aimed at educating young people, said Jane Peacock, deputy director of the Health Department’s public health division.
“It is a challenging issue, because teens spend a lot of time on their own,” she said. “We try to give them the facts and teach them that every choice has consequences.”
The department’s five-pronged approach to teen pregnancy prevention includes comprehensive educational programs, access to family planning services, after-school community service projects with local nonprofits and businesses, outreach to young men and communication classes with teens’ parents.
Many teens feel they can’t talk with their parents about these issues, said Francesca Duran, a specialist at PB&J Family Services who works with teen parents and was one herself.
“They’re depending a lot on their peers,” she said. “I encourage them to find a support system, to really try to find a parent or caregiver to talk with.”
Teaching young men about their responsibility is also key, Ruiz said. “We can’t pretend they’re not a part of this, too. There aren’t 4,500 immaculate conceptions happening every year,” she said.
However they arrive at it, young people are making much better choices today, Peacock said.
But New Mexico still lags behind most other states, which Peacock said probably has something to do with demographics. The state has a large Hispanic population, which Tuesday’s CDC report shows is the ethnicity with the highest teen birthrate for 2010.
The Hispanic rate did fall over the past 20 years — from 10.5 percent in 1991 to 5.6 percent in 2010 — but not as fast as the decline of non-Hispanic blacks or American Indians and Alaska Natives.
The state is doing more to provide programs specifically for the Hispanic community, Peacock said, including Cuídate, which means “Take care of yourself,” a program designed by the CDC that connects ideas about sex and safer sex to Hispanic culture.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal