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USA TODAY, October 24, 2007

Repeat teen births highest in Texas at 24%

Alarming stats bring calls for prevention.

Almost a quarter of teen births in Texas are to girls who have had a baby before, according to a state-by-state analysis of federal birth rate data to be released today.

The U.S. average is 20%. Texas has the highest percentage of repeat births (24%) among girls 15-19; New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont have the lowest (12%), according to Child Trends, a non-profit research group that studied state data from the National Center for Health Statistics for 2004, the most recent year available.

The highest percentages of repeat teen births are in seven states, primarily in the South, the report says. In only four, including Massachusetts (14%), did they account for less than 15%.

"We thought it was really important to highlight such a high percentage of teen births to mothers who already had a child," says Child Trends researcher Jennifer Manlove. "It's not on people's radar screens."

More pregnancies end in abortion in the Northeast; they are less likely in the South, she says.

Since 1990, the U.S. teen birth rate overall has declined, and repeat births to girls 15-19 dropped from 25% to 20% of all teen births in 2004.

The analysis found that 76% of teens who had another child were unmarried.

The numbers on repeat teen births are higher than they should be, says Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association. "We need to increase the delivery of the message and learn the best way to communicate with high-risk youth."

Those in the pregnancy prevention field say many factors affect these closely spaced births. Among interventions that help prevent additional pregnancies: newer, long-acting contraceptives, staying in school after the first birth, and parenting and family-planning assistance, they say.

Multiple problems arise for teen mothers who have more than one baby, says Helen Koo, a demographer who evaluates teen pregnancy prevention programs at RTI International, a non-profit think tank in Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Koo says preventing subsequent pregnancies among teens is a challenge. "Once girls start having sex, it's hard to get them to stop," she says.

Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma in Fayetteville, Ark., sees many repeat teen pregnancies, says medical director Scott Spear. It "just dooms a lot of women to a cycle of poverty -- and their children as well."

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