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Leaders say abstinence is key to decline in teen pregnancies

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Children born out of wedlock today are more likely to have mothers in their early 20s than teens, according to new data from the National Center for Health Statistics that prompted leaders of the True Love Waits abstinence movement to point to virginity pledges as a leading factor in the reduction of teen pregnancies.

A record high number of 1.5 million babies were born to unwed mothers last year, but the surprising trend is that most of those moms were not teens, according to a report on the data by USA Today Oct. 31.

While teens accounted for half of all unwed births in 1970, they accounted for but only 24 percent of the total in 2004.

For women ages 20-24, 55 percent of births last year were to unwed mothers, and the figure was almost 28 percent for ages 25-29, the study said.

From 2002 to 2004, births to unwed mothers ages 25-29 jumped more than 14 percent, and for mothers ages 20-24, the number rose 7 percent.

“This new report is a composite of both good news and bad news,” said Richard Ross, professor of student ministry at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and spokesperson for the international True Love Waits campaign.

“About the best news is that teens who once accounted for 50 percent of unwed births now represent only 24 percent,” Ross said. “I am sure the condom crowd will want to take most of the credit for this drop, but the facts argue otherwise.”

Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, which is funded by more than 17 federal agencies, show that the behavior of adolescents who have made a virginity pledge is significantly different from that of peers who have not made a pledge, Ross noted.

After reviewing the data from the Ad Health study, the Heritage Foundation concluded that teenage girls who have taken a virginity pledge are one-third less likely to experience a pregnancy before age 18, Ross said. Girls who are strong pledgers (defined as those who are consistent in reporting a virginity pledge in the succeeding waves of the Ad Health survey) are more than 50 percent less likely to have a teen pregnancy than non-pledgers.

“Condoms are not the issue. Teenagers who choose abstinence are, in significant numbers, just not having sex,” Ross told Baptist Press.

The Heritage Foundation in 2004 also said teens who make a virginity pledge are far less likely to be sexually active during high school years. Nearly two-thirds of teens who have never taken a pledge are sexually active before age 18, but only 30 percent of teens who consistently report having made a pledge become sexually active before age 18.

USA Today also noted that unwed celebrities may have popularized the single-mom baby boom, even though experts say unwed mothers are more likely to be economically disadvantaged.

“Young adults are acting on their attitudes. They are doing what they think is OK,” Sarah Brown, director of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, said, pointing to federal data that found almost two-thirds of girls ages 15-19 say it’s acceptable for an unwed woman to have a child, USA Today reported.

Jimmy Hester, senior director of student ministry publishing at LifeWay Christian Resources and a spokesman for True Love Waits, told BP the stats that show girls are having children out of wedlock less in their teens and more in their 20s indicates leaders “haven’t convinced them that what’s best for them and their child is to wait until marriage.”

“It appears that True Love Waits and the abstinence movement are influencing young women’s decisions,” Hester said. “Even so, we still have popular trends to confront, such as the one mentioned in the article: ‘Unwed celebrities may have popularized the single-mom baby boom.’ We also have to continue educating young girls that it is not ‘OK for an unwed woman to have a child.’”

Abstinence campaigns create an “identity movement” or “moral community” that provides peer support for teenagers and helps them say no to sex outside marriage when the temptation arises, Hester said. But there are way too many girls who have not yet joined that kind of support system.

“Despite the progress made over the past decade, much work remains to be done,” he said. “The United States still has the highest rate of teen pregnancy and out-of-wedlock births in the industrialized world, resulting in severe economic and social costs, not to mention the personal pain early sexual activity places upon teenagers and their families.”

In an effort to address the ongoing need, True Love Waits has launched True Love Waits Takes the Town, Hester said, which is an initiative that encourages cities to take a community-wide approach to promoting abstinence. Schools, governments, businesses, churches, health organizations and others are urged to unite around the common goal of helping teenagers choose abstinence and keep a commitment to purity.

“True Love Waits Takes the Town supports students and challenges community leaders to develop a unified message that the healthiest, best and most godly approach to sexuality is to delay sexual involvement until marriage,” Hester said.
With reporting by Art Toalston. For more information, visit www.truelovewaits.com.

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  • Erin Curry