May 22, 2009

Latino groups target high pregnancy rates

By Maegan Smith
Scripps Howard Foundation Wire

WASHINGTON - Although Latino parents and their children say attending college or pursuing a career are their most important goals, Latina teen pregnancies have soared to twice the national rate, limiting young women’s chances of achieving their goals.

Lawmakers and representatives from Latino organizations gathered on Capitol Hill Tuesday to discuss possible causes of the trend and to seek ways to reduce the number of teen births. Nationally, 30 percent of young women have at least one pregnancy before age 20, but that rate climbs to 53 percent for Latinas.

“I loose sleep over this topic,” said Delegate Ana Sol Gutierrez of Maryland’s 18th district. “These numbers are disastrous.”

Gutierrez pointed to the lack of age-appropriate sexual education classes in schools and the perpetuation of an abstinence-only approach as contributors to the rising numbers. She said that before 1990, sex-ed programs and continuing education of young women who became pregnant, were readily available. Then, “something happened,” and they, “all disappeared,” the delegate said.

Ruthie Flores of the Latino Initiative at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, announced results of a survey examining differences within the Latino community that might contribute to high pregnancy rates.

The survey, co-sponsored by The National Council of La Raza, found little difference in attitudes between Latinos born in the United States and those born elsewhere. Attending a college and university or pursuing a promising career were by large the most cited goals that Latino teens and their parents had for themselves.

But the survey found that Latino teens don’t associate getting pregnant with being unable to reach those goals, and linking the two might help cut the number of pregnancies.

“We are not making the progress that we should,” said Rep. Ben R. Lujan, D-N.M. But “there is good news today. Within our families is the power to change the tide across the country.”

He referred to the survey’s finding that parents can play a large role in their children’s attitudes about sexual intercourse and contraception. While 14 percent of Latino teens said that friends most influenced their decisions about sex, 49 percent cited parents as their biggest influence.

Mentoring programs and linking teen pregnancy to poverty were suggested as possible ways to combat rising pregnancy rates.

Dr. Maria Rosa, vice president for the Institute for Hispanic Health at the National council of La Raza, said programs and practices being touted by other panelists would help make young women aware of their options but that it was not enough.

“We are focusing too much on girls and leaving out the boys,” Rosa said. “We need to make these macho men responsible for their actions as well.”

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