(02/22/2011)
West Virginia, a state that seems to make the nation's worst lists, is now the number one state for increase in teen pregnancy.

It is the only state in the nation to see an increase in the rate of teen pregnancy from 2007 to 2009, a period when the national teen birth rate hit a seven-decade low, according to the US Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The pregnancy rate for West Virginia girls between 15 and 19 years old increased by 17 percent, says the CDC.

The Herald was unable to obtain actual numbers of teen pregnancy in Calhoun and regional counties.

Calhoun Superintendent of Schools Roger Propst said Calhoun Middle-High School does not keep records regarding students that become pregnant.

The CDC says nationally the teenage birth rate fell by 8 percent, reaching a historic low of 39.1 births per 1,000 teens.

Providing sex education directed toward birth control is haphazard in the Mountain State, according to Margaret Chapman Pomponio, executive director of the reproductive rights group WV FREE.

"Where we fall short is a lack of a comprehensive approach to sex education. We know there is no consistency from county to county and even from school to school," she said.

Sex education is a hot button issue, opposed by many religious groups who support abstinence before marriage.

A 2008 CDC School Health Profile indicated that most WV high schools did not directly address prevention of pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases.

"We hear it all the time that kids are receiving different information," Pomponio said, "and sometimes no information at all."

In October, two state nonprofit agencies received nearly $2 million in federal grants to fund sex education programs, not based solely on abstinence.

"We think the most common-sense approach is to incorporate abstinence and preventive measures, and be realistic about youth behavior," Pomponio said.

She said the data from the CDC is a wake-up call.

The high teen pregnancy rate puts social and economic burdens on West Virginia communities.

In West Virginia, costs associated with teen pregnancy include, $11 million for public health; $14 million for child welfare; $4 million for incarceration and $16 million in lost tax revenue, according to a 2010 study by the Marshall University Center for Business and Economic Research.

Pomponio said, worse yet, "Young mothers have the worst birth outcomes of any age group."

Infants born to teen mothers are more likely to be premature and have a low birth weight, which increases mortality as well as developmental delays and childhood health problems.

Teen parents are more likely to drop out of school, remain unmarried, and live in poverty, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

Children born to teen parents experience a higher rate of abuse and neglect, and are more likely to enter the welfare system, according to the report.

West Virginia is the only state in the nation that allows insurance companies to exclude dependent minors from coverage for contraceptives and maternity care.

So called "family planning" is a hot-button issue, opposed by religious groups.

"It's a gaping hole, to not only deny them access to family planning and birth control, and then say you're on your own if you get pregnant, too," Pomponio said.

The Insurance Fairness Act is currently in the Senate and House of Delegates Banking and Insurance Committees, an act that would expand insurance coverage of contraceptives, prenatal care and childbirth services to dependent minors.

The number of pregnant women in West Virginia who smoke is also alarming.

In WV the percentage of pregnant women who smoke increased to 31.9% percent in 2005.


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