Loneliest number

October 22, 2013

The message that teenagers either need to delay having sex or take precautions against getting pregnant apparently is being heard.

According to information compiled by the North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics and released by the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina, the teenage pregnancy rate in North Carolina continues to decline, and was 62 percent lower in 2012 than it was in 1990, when it peaked. That, we are sure, is contrary to the public perception.

Wonderfully, Robeson County is sharing in this grand achievement. Although we ranked sixth in the state during 2012 in the pregnancy rate for girls ages 15 to 19, with 61.8 pregnancies for every 1,000 females in that age group, the local rate dropped about 11 percent from 2011. There were still 308 teenagers in Robeson County who got pregnant during 2012, so that is a lot of babies being born into an uncertain world.

Bill Smith, the director of the Robeson County Health Department, credits outreach programs, specifically “comprehensive” sex education efforts in our schools that teach the consequences of an unwanted pregnancy.

Here are some highlights from the report:

— In Robeson County, the pregnancy rate of blacks and whites was the same, 43.3 for every 1,000 girls. The pregnancy rate for Hispanics was 82.9 per 1,000. Interestingly, the report did not include a pregnancy rate for American Indians.

— The teen abortion rate dropped by 13 percent across the state.

— Pregnancies to white, black, and Hispanic teens dropped 8 percent, 11 percent and 13 percent respectively.

— Statewide, 24.5 percent of teen pregnancies occurred to a girl who had been pregnant before. This was the lowest proportion of repeat pregnancies in state history.

We have said it before, but it can never be screamed loud enough or too often. We can think of nothing more selfish than for a teenager who does not have a stable family situation, which should include a partner and the financial resources to care for a newborn, to allow herself to become pregnant. And while the father shares in the blame, it is the mother who has the control over her own body — and will shoulder the burden of caring for the child.

The odds are stacked against these children from the beginning, as they are more vulnerable to all of life’s maladies, mostly poverty that greases the roads to drugs and crime that the rest of us get billed for.

The fact that fewer babies are being born into these circumstances is proof that a message cannot be sent too many times. There is more work to be done here, but that can come after a round of applause for our state and this county.