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Heidi Shaffer, Published February 03 2011

Minnesota, North Dakota low on list for teen pregnancies

Fargo high school senior Erika Schur said she’s made the best of being a teen mom, but better sex education may have made her wait for motherhood.

“It’s difficult because you have to work to support you and your daughter, and there’s a lot of pressure just balancing everything,” the 17-year-old said of raising her 9-month-old daughter, Rayna.

Schur is among a declining population as teen birth rates drop in Minnesota, North Dakota and across the nation, according to data released Wednesday from the National Center for Health Statistics.

Minnesota has the 45th lowest teen birth rate in the nation, while North Dakota ranks 41st. But there’s still room for improvement as the U.S. teen birth rate remains the highest among industrialized nations, said Audrey Eckes, a nurse practitioner at Fargo Cass Public Health.

“We’re making strides, but I think it definitely could be better,” she said.

In 2009, Minnesota had 24.3 births for every 1,000 females ages 15 to 19. North Dakota had 27.9 births for that population, compared

to the national rate of 39.1 births.

Overall, the U.S. and individual states have seen dramatic decreases since 1991, the most recent peak year for teen birth rates.

In 1991, the national rate was 61.8 births per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19. Minnesota’s rate was 37.3 births and North Dakota had 35.5 births for that population.

Better education and access to contraception has likely contributed to that 37 percent drop in national teen birth rates over the past two decades, Eckes said.

Health agencies have pushed an emphasis on birth control and abstinence education for both male and female students, she said.

Research shows 14- to 16-year-olds are waiting longer to have sex, while those ages 17 and older are making better use of contraceptives, Eckes said.

Easier access to improved birth control methods have likely helped teens reduce unwanted pregnancies, Eckes said.

Deb Dillon, principal at Fargo’s Woodrow Wilson High School, said many parents are probably not aware of how prevalent sexual activity among teens has become.

“Teen sex, just across the board, has become extremely acceptable,” among high schoolers, she said. “It’s almost expected now.”

That acceptance, in some ways, may make teens feel more comfortable in seeking out contraceptives, she said.

Betty Helmer, director of West Fargo’s Perry Center for unwed mothers, said education and communication are essential to helping reduce teen birth rates.

The faith-based home sees about three high school-aged residents each year, but the majority are older teens and college-aged, Helmer said.

“To me, that was surprising,” she said. “I do think things are changing.”

Teen mom Schur said more can be done to deter unplanned pregnancies. Schur’s parents didn’t talk much about pregnancy prevention, and sex education at school didn’t sink in, she said.

“You don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into before it happens,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511