Opinion

Commentary: California bucks national trend on teen birth rates

California can rightly be proud to be bucking a national trend. Teenage girls here are giving birth in record low numbers. The opposite is true nationally.

Governors dating back to Pete Wilson, along with the California Department of Public Health, deserve praise for funding a wide array of programs aimed at combating teen births.

The rate of births among girls ages 15 to 19 fell to 35.2 for every 1,000 females in 2008, down from 37.1 births in 2007. The drop has been steady since 1991, when there were 70.9 births for every 1,000 girls, twice the most recent rate. Back then, California's rate also was significantly higher than the nation as a whole.

California has taken an enlightened approach with programs including abstinence, counseling, contraceptives, and state-funded abortions for unwanted pregnancies.

It has come at some cost. The state has refused $70 million from the federal government, because Congress and presidents insisted that states follow an ostrich-like abstinence-only model. California is the only state in the nation that consistently refused the money, dating back to 1997.

While California's teen birth rate declines, the national rate rises. In 2007, there were 42.5 births for 1,000 girls nationwide. The national rate would be worse if not for the diminishing California numbers.

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