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Number of Alabama Teen Mothers Rises

By Associated Press

Montgomery AL – Health officials and others involved with keeping teens from becoming mothers are trying to figure out why the number of teen births increased significantly in Alabama last year.

In 2006, there were 8,670 babies born to mothers who were 10-19 years old, compared to 7,903 births in 2005 an increase of 767.

Dr. Albert Woolbright, who directs the health department's statistical division, said the increase was disappointing because the numbers had been steadily decreasing since 2000. There was a slight increase of 11 births from 2003 to 2004, when there were 8,259 teen births.

Officials are looking at factors that might be contributing to the rise, including whether more teens are choosing to have sex and whether fewer of them are using contraception.

Jamie Keith, executive director of the Alabama Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, said it's "a mixed bag" since the rate went up in a majority of Alabama's 67 counties but down in 18 of them.

"There's no seemingly regional area that was spiking," she said Monday. "It appears to be across the state, so it's just an issue that I think everybody needs to pay attention to."

"These are very, very fresh numbers," State Health Officer Don Williamson said. "Total births in Alabama in 2006 went up by almost 3,000 so there was an overall increase in all births, but there was a proportionally greater increase in teen births."

"We can hope that this is a one-year exception," he said. "We're going to need time to really give this a closer look."

Keith said her campaign takes an abstinence-only approach when speaking at schools, as required by the state, but also teaches youngsters about contraceptive use when speaking at community organizations.

Reducing teen births is multifaceted and is not a "one size fits all approach," she said.

"Any time there's an increase we need to pay attention and we need to pay attention even when it goes down," she said. "We need to consider the types of information we need to be giving our teens. There's a lot of room at the table."

Babies born to teens died at a rate of 11.6 per 1,000 births in 2006 compared to an 8.5 mortality rate for adult mothers. Teens are more likely to have babies born at lower weight and have less prenatal care.

Kelly Warren, who directs the Mobile County T.E.E.N. Center, said she's still hopeful since there's been a gradual trend downward.

Last year her Teens Empowered through Education and Nurturing center served 331 pregnant and parenting teens, assisting them with prenatal care, schooling, parenting classes and other services.

"I personally would not say this is something to completely stop what you're doing and change direction," she said. "It's our barometer we have to follow it and keep our eye on it, but I wouldn't completely scrap what's being done because it went in a direction we didn't intend."

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