Pregnancy Rates Increase Among Latina Teens

Wendy Norris

Latina teens in Colorado are giving birth at alarming rates. Reproductive health activists work to find answers in the midst of cultural obstacles that pave a path to early motherhood.

Nearly, two-thirds of all babies born to Colorado teen mothers between the ages of 15-17 were to Latina girls. And the rate since 2001 is climbing. Most troubling is the fertility rate of 13 to 14-year-old Latina adolescents is double that of any other race/ethnicity group and significantly higher in all other age groups.

These alarming figures are featured in "The State of Adolescent Sexual Health in Colorado 2007" from the Colorado Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Parenting and Prevention (COAPPP).

COAPPP executive director Lori Casillas believes the reasons behind the increase in Latina teen births are complex.

There is insufficient up to date research to properly explain the disparities of births to Latina teens. However, we do know that when youth are given full and comprehensive sexuality health education, access to affordable and quality family planning and reproductive health services, and opportunities to engage in conversations with their parents and caring adults in their lives, they make healthy and informed decisions about their reproductive health, parenting, and overall future.

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The skyrocketing rate of teen pregnancies and its impact on the community is likely to be a subject of interest at the Latina Health Summit at Denver's Mi Casa Resource Center for Women on October 27.

The Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR) and sponsor of the summit employs a broad range of approaches to address the issue, says Executive Director Jacinta Montoya.

"The Latino community is deeply concerned about teen birth rates, the root causes of teen pregnancy, and the challenges that face teen parents," Montoya explains. "It's safe to say that most Latino families are affected by teen pregnancy and parenting at some level."

As a reproductive justice organization, COLOR works to support the right of young women to parent their children and to have adequate support to do so. And that can mean opposing messages and attitudes that vilify young mothers.

But that isn't to suggest that COLOR accepts teen pregnancy as an inevitability.

"The reproductive justice frame also means that we work to address the root causes of Latina teen pregnancy, including lack of access to preventative health care services, lack of access to higher education and employment opportunities, punitive immigration policies, and attitudes that devalue young women and their leadership," says Montoya.

"The Latina teen birth rate is a problem because many young Latinas see few other life options other than becoming a wife and mother," Montoya continues. Since many young Latinas do not have access to higher education or gainful employment options, they see pregnancy and marriage as the only life path available to them.

Montoya believes that the Latina teen birth rate is a reflection of the lack of sexuality education that is comprehensive, medically accurate, and evidence-based.

Casillas agreed that relevancy is a key component to preventing adolescent Latina pregnancies.

"Integrating cultural competency principles into programs and services is a critical way to enhance the quality of services for Latino youth and families," says Casillas.

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