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County still in top ten in teen birth rate

As President George W. Bush called for more federal funding for abstinence-based sex education in the schools and right-to-lifers marched in protest of the 31st anniversary of Roe-v-Wade abortion ruling, Sunnyside High School students were voicing their own concerns about teenage pregnancies.

The number of girls who may actually be pregnant and attending school may not be as high as some believe, it is still of concern to educators.

While the number of SHS pregnant teens accounts for about 4 percent of the student body, countywide the number of teens, between the ages of 15 and 17, is as high as 62 per 1,000 women, according to new numbers released by the Washington State Department of Health.

Sunnyside High School officials say there are perhaps as many as 50 girls attending class who are already mothers or mothers-to-be, not 75 as rumored.

The discussion surrounding teen pregnancy began prior to Christmas break when SHS students were asked their opinion on such issues as student drug and alcohol use as part of the school's on-going self-study program, said Diane Kilian, a high school student counselor.

"I don't think it (the number) is that high," said Kilian who works with a support group for teenage mothers.

She said she works with the school's population of teenage mothers-to-be offering support and counseling to help keep the girls in school in order to earn their high school diploma.

"There is no way to tell how many girls may have been pregnant and chose to abort their babies," she said. "But of those attending school in a population of 1,303 students, it is only about 50," she said.

Kilian regularly meets with about 20 young women, who are either pregnant or trying to stay in school while caring for their youngsters.

"Our major goal is on keeping them in school, something they want to do in order to get their education," she said.

Kilian said the reports of 75 or more Sunnyside High School girls being pregnant may have been circulated as a result of questions included in the school's self-study that is currently being circulated among the students.

"But as far as I know there has not been a formal survey conducted pinpointing teen pregnancies among our students," Kilian said.

Earlier this week, the DOH reported that fewer Washington teens became pregnant in 2002 and fewer had abortions in 2002 than in the previous year. The numbers published in the current "Washington State Pregnancy and Induced Abortion Statistics" report showed that the number of 15-19-year-olds having babies in Washington is lower than the national numbers. The DOH report said more Yakima County teens had abortions in 2002 than in 2001. The rate of pregnant teens having abortions went from 15 per 1,000 girls to 19.

Yakima County continues to rank among the top 10 state counties reporting large numbers of teen pregnancies. Yakima County's birth rate was higher at 62 per 1,000, than the state rate of 33.0 per 1,000 teens. King and Pierce counties are still reporting the most teenage births.

Nevertheless, nationwide, the birth rate for teens, ages 15-19, fell from 45.3 births per 1,000 teens in 2001 to 43 births in 2002. The state birth rate was 35.6 per 1,000 teens in 2001.

The report also showed that fewer teens were seeking abortions statewide. The state abortion rate for teens in 2002 was 14 per 1,000 in the 15-17 age group.

The state health report reported that in Yakima County, 241 live babies were born to teens in the 15-17 age group in 2002 out of a population of 5,664 teens.

. Julia Hart can be contacted at

(509) 837-4500, or you can e-mail her at jhart@eaglenewspapers.com

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