A rise in Texas teen pregnancies could foreshadow national trends, experts warn

For 15 years, the state of Texas has seen a steady decline in teen pregnancies. This is a big deal, as The Lone Star state has remained a place with one of the highest rates of teens giving birth in America. It has also been one of the states with the highest rate of repeat teen pregnancies. For these reasons, a 67 percent decrease in teen pregnancies since 2007 was certainly hailed as an accomplishment.

But now experts are worried as over a decade of progress has come to a halt, and the trend in decline of teen pregnancies is reversing. According to a new report from the University of Houston’s Institute for Research on Women, Gender & Sexuality (WGSS), teen pregnancies, females between the ages of 15 and 19, rose in Texas by 0.4 percent in 2022. A small, but significant data point potentially underscoring the power of the state’s six-week abortion ban, Senate Bill 8, which went into effect in September 2021. 

Elizabeth Gregory, a professor and director of WGSS at the University of Houston told Salon the increase might not look very big, but in the context of the data trend over the last eight years, it’s a big change. In 2021, the decline in teen pregnancies for all ethnicities of females between 15 and 19 was 9.16 percent; in 2016, it was 10.9 percent.

“In prior years, the decline was much larger,” Gregory said. “So you’re actually seeing, if there had been a continuing decline, it could have been something close to a 10 percent, but it’s reversing a trend of decline, and that’s notable.”

“Just looking at the difference in the numbers suggests that there is a difference in access.”

In the report, researchers looked at data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which showed a 2 percent increase in overall birth rates across Texas. Specifically, more than 16,000 additional infants were born in Texas in 2022 compared to 2021. Researchers saw the largest increase, 8 percent, among Hispanic women between the ages of 25 and 44; a first-time increase in the last eight years. Taking a closer look at teen pregnancy rates, Gregory noted that the Hispanic teen birth rate increased substantially — by 1.25 percent. The teen pregnancy rate for Asians went up by 8.23 percent. Gregory said the data tells a story about inaccessibility and inequity in who can access contraception and abortion care amid the state’s ban.

“Just looking at the difference in the numbers suggests that there is a difference in access,” Gregory said. “And that could be based on where people are living, if their clinics are closing, or whether they are informed about how to access different forms of contraception, what kinds of information they have, and what networks they have.” 

Notably, the number of abortions in the state of Texas decreased from 50,000 in 2021 to 17,000 in 2022 to 40 in 2023.

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Hannah Lantos, senior research scientist at Child Trends, a research institute focused on studying the well-being of the United states’ children and adolescents, told Salon via email there are different factors that drive birth rates, but it “isn’t surprising” to see teen births increasing in the wake of abortion restrictions. 

“Access to abortion care and comprehensive sex ed in schools are critical to reducing teen pregnancy; both are facing widespread laws that limit their availability,” Lantos said. “Teens are scared to access the care that works for them and often don’t know who to turn to for support, particularly as states like Texas restrict comprehensive sex ed, don’t expand Medicaid to increase health insurance coverage, and try to enact out-of-state abortion bans.”

Indeed, it’s not just restricting access to abortion that could be behind the trend. Its reproductive rights-related tools that are also under attack that can be slowing down the decline in teen pregnancies. A previous report by Child Trends found that teens account for 6 percent of all pregnancies and 9 percent of all abortions. Pregnant teens are more likely to terminate their pregnancy than older pregnant people. 

But people say if the U.S. wants to know what’s going to happen after Dobbs nationwide, look to Texas. Could it be that Texas is foreshadowing what’s to come nationwide as a result of the June 2022 Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade? 

Could it be that Texas is foreshadowing what’s to come nationwide?

According to the most recent data from the CDC, nationwide teen pregnancy rates are lower than they’ve ever been before. In May 2023, a report from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics showed the birth rate among 15 to 19-year-olds in 2022 was 13.5 per 1,000 females, a historic low. At the time, experts attributed the decline to a combination of factors. Some said it was because more teens were abstaining from sex. Contraceptives have become more accessible to teens. But the U.S. has yet to see data on teen pregnancy rates in a full year post-Dobbs. 

“If abortion and comprehensive sex ed are not readily available, states should prepare for more teen parents, meaning we need policies and practices that support their unique needs,” Lantos said. 

There are economic impacts of a rise in teen pregnancy rates, both researchers said. 

“There’s definitely a correlation between the decline in teen births [nationwide] and a rise in high school graduation rates,” Gregory said. “Unplanned births are a direct connection for many to poverty, and not just short-term poverty, but frequently, lifetime poverty.”

Teens who get pregnant also face greater health risks. Research has shown that young teens have a greater risk of developing postpartum blood loss and eclampsia, a condition marked by seizures and high blood pressure. Both the economic and health effects of teen pregnancies should concern not only those who could be directly affected, but American society as a whole.

“It’s both an individual issue, if people have differential access then some people are facing differential disadvantage,” Gregory added. “But it’s also a wider societal issue.”

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