May 20, 2015 — A New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee report released last week calls on the state Legislature to invest in programs that will reduce teenage pregnancies and support teenage mothers, the Santa Fe New Mexican reports.
According to the New Mexican, New Mexico has the second-highest rate of teenage pregnancies in the U.S., despite a 35% decline in the rate in New Mexico over the past decade. In 2013, there were nearly 2,980 reported teen pregnancies in the state.
Teenage pregnancy rates in the state varied by county. According to the New Mexican, the birth rate for women between ages 13 and 19 exceeded 15% in many rural counties -- including Eddy, Lea and Roosevelt, among others -- and reached about 9% in the Santa Fe and Bernalillo counties.
Using data from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, the report found that "children born to teen parents cost the state roughly $75 million annually." The cost estimates factored in taxpayer dollars spent on public programs such as child welfare and public assistance, as well as lost income because of lower education levels among teenage mothers.
Reports Notes Program Gaps
The report noted that there were gaps in the state's implementation of comprehensive sexuality education, which could be a contributing factor to the teenage pregnancy rate.
According to the report, while schools in the state are required to teach students about various ways to prevent pregnancy and reduce sexual behavior risks, "not all schools report implementing these standards." Specifically, the committee found that district and charter high schools did not meet state standards for teaching about pregnancy prevention or sexually transmitted infections.
The report recommended that the New Mexico Legislature continue to invest in "programs and services that support teen parents and their children, including adult basic education, the GRADS program, home visiting, and early childhood education program" as part of a comprehensive teen pregnancy prevention plan.
Kenny Vigil, spokesperson for New Mexico's Department of Health, said the department will work with other state agencies to develop more comprehensive strategies for teenage pregnancy prevention. Those agencies include the state's Children, Youth and Families Department and the Public Education Department.
Meanwhile, according to the New Mexican, some teenage pregnancy prevention advocates said the report's findings could distort or obscure other factors that influence teenage pregnancy rates.
For example, Stephanie Jackson, a senior research scientist at the University of New Mexico's Public Health Program, said high teenage pregnancy rates are associated with high rates of poverty. "Pinning this spectrum of negative outcomes on parenting status or the age at which you parent buries all these other variables that come out of poverty, that come out of racial and ethnic disparities, and that come out of economic disparities," she said (Wright, Santa Fe New Mexican, 5/16).