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City Takes Steps To Reduce ‘Catastrophic’ Teen Pregnancy Birth Rate

Photo: Mary Tuma, License: N/A

Mary Tuma

Mayor Julián Castro at last week’s State of the City address

Photo: , License: N/A

Before nearly 1,000 nonprofit leaders, local government office holders and business executives, Mayor Julián Castro lauded San Antonio’s progress as a “city on the rise” in his fifth annual State of the City address last week. Castro noted graduation rates have increased, unemployment has dropped, obesity rates have dipped (coincidently, against the backdrop of the Whataburger logo, a key sponsor, but, hey, that’s a different story) and that teen pregnancy birth rates—a glaring and long-standing problem in the Alamo City—have dropped, too.

Indeed, in 2012 the birth rate of pregnant women between 15 and 19 years old in Bexar County declined by 38 percent since 2000, according to the most recent data available. But that’s not the entire picture—while the numbers shrunk in the immediate past, the overall rate continues to rest well above the national teen birth rate of 29 percent. To cast another shadow on the rosy state of the city, repeat teen births in the county made up nearly a quarter of all 2012 teen births, a figure that’s stagnated in the two previous years.

So it’s no wonder that when presented with the opportunity, the City jumped at the chance to direct federal funds toward teen pregnancy prevention. A slice of flexible federal Medicaid funds, allocated to the state, trickled down to local public health agencies with the goal of subsidizing prevention programs, as per a 2011 legislative budget agreement.

San Antonio’s metro health district made out with $43 million as a result; those funds are now being directed toward several different prevention strategies, including $1.5 million devoted directly to teen pregnancy over the next three years. During an early February City Council meeting, members voted 10-1 to approve the University Health System’s $851,928 investment in contraceptive access. Some 250 teenage girls age 13 to 19 (with parental consent if under 18) can now receive long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) in the form of either an intrauterine device (IUD) or hormone injections (the birth control shot).

Other initiatives in progress include teaching abstinence-plus sexual education at 23 middle schools, a case management program to work one-on-one with at-risk teen moms and a program, led by a teen-centered local obstetrician, that seeks to train physicians on how to cater specifically to teenagers.

Especially considering the massive legislative cuts made to family planning and contraceptive access at the state level, the local government-based investment is a much-needed step in curbing the high teen pregnancy rate, City Public Health Director Dr. Thomas Schlenker says.

“We’ve had our ups and downs and this certainly does not solve all our problems, but it’s definitely a bright spot,” Schlenker tells the Current. “It’s a substantial amount of money that can be applied toward prevention that has never been available before, so it’s a tremendous opportunity for us.”

In addition, teenage girls who give birth at any UHS hospital can now receive the LARC before they leave the hospital (an attempt at reducing multiple births among teens)—a “no-brainer” according to Schlenker, but unfortunately something that hasn’t occurred up to this point.

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