MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA (AP)
The teen birth rate in Montana increased 9 percent last year, the single biggest jump since 1990, state health officials said Wednesday. The news followed a recent report that found a troubling reversal in the nation's teen birth rate, which saw its first increase in 15 years. The 3 percent increase nationally surprised officials and has revived the debate over abstinence- only sex education. On Wednesday, state officials said they were not sure why Montana's teen birth rate had increased. "It's too soon to determine the exact cause of the increase, but we'll be taking an in-depth look at this over the next several weeks," said Colleen Lindsay with the Montana Department of Health and Human Services. Up until 1996, Montana's birth rate had been hovering around 36 per 1,000 teens. Montana's current rate is 40 births per 1,000 teens, which is still a bit less than the national rate of about 42 births per 1,000, according to the state. Experts say a number of factors influence teen pregnancy and birth. Some have blamed increased federal funding for abstinence-only education for contributing to the problem, since it does not teach teens how to use condoms and other contraception. State officials said they will be looking at reports dealing with teen sex patterns, such as how often they are having sex and how early. They noted it could also be an anomaly. "We don't know if this is the beginning of an increase or a blip," said state health education specialist Donci Bardash. The department cited a recent study by education officials that found an increase in binge drinking. "It's hard to make good choices when you are under the influence of alcohol," Lindsay said. State officials said they will be looking at obtaining more federal money for family planning services, which are offered in some communities by private and nonprofit clinics. They noted there are many social and economic costs to teen pregnancy. "It just has an enormous impact on quality of life for both the parent and the children," Bardash said.