But scant attention is paid to why teens become pregnant — especially in the South, especially among the poor — and why, after falling for 15 years, the rate started rising again from 2005 to 2006.
The margin is stark. Mississippi’s rate was more than 60 percent higher than the national average.
In Mississippi, 68 of every 1,000 girls 15 to 19 years of age had a child who is now approaching his or her second birthday. That compares to 19 per 1,000 in New Hampshire.
At 22.6, Mississippi also has the youngest median age for a woman giving birth to her first baby. Of 4.3 million births nationwide, an increase to 1.6 million were to single mothers.
There’s little doubt that individual situations vary widely. People cite everything from naivete to accidents to predation by older males to a scarcity of abortion services in the state to a lack of instruction on birth control and availability of contraceptives. Could be a statistical anomaly, too. Mississippi’s rate has actually been higher than it is now.
Yet it’s a factor normally ignored that really needs more attention. Hundreds of fully aware teens become pregnant intentionally in this state. More directly stated, it’s a choice. Whether due to a false sense of maturity, a desire to keep a romance going or any of thousands of other rationales, hundreds of little girls are deciding to become pregnant. And they limit the definition of “ready” strictly to a willingness to provide love for their child, which they can do. No thought is given to everything else a child will need, which aid programs or relatives will be expected to provide.
So reversing the trend isn’t as simple as offering more sex education or giving away contraceptives or making abortions readily available and free or lectures on abstinence. Getting Mississippi’s teen pregnancy rates at least in balance with the rest of the nation requires understanding why this choice is being made -- how the sense of personal responsibility has changed -- and then figuring out what to do about it.