Teen pregnancy highest in Miss.

Teen pregnancy is a growing problem for teens and pre-teens in Union County, New Albany, and across the state of Mississippi.

According to Mississippi Department of Health, there were 385 babies born to girls and young women in Union County between the ages of 10 and 19 in 2008. 323 of those females were of the caucasian race and 62 were of other races. 289 of these babies were born at the Baptist Memorial Hospital-Union County in New Albany, which is more than in any hospital in north Mississippi.

New Albany statistics for 2008 show 132 births, with a majority being born from teenage mothers.

Dr. Paul Byers, health officer for Public Health District 2 with the Mississippi Department of Health, said, “There are health risks associated with teen pregnancy. Most of the time the girl’s body is not mature enough to carry the baby safely and it can be detrimental to the health of the baby and the mother.”

Besides the fact that if a teenage girl is having intercourse she might get pregnant, there are also a myriad of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) that can be formed just by being physically intimate just one time. For example, a girl or young woman can end up with Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Herpes, HIV, AIDS, HPV (Human Papillomavirus Infection), PID (Pelvic Inflammatory Disease), Syphilis, Trichomoniasis, Bacterial Vaginosis, and more. Some of these STDs are formed without showing any signs or symptoms in the male or female.

Across the state of Mississippi in 2008, 7,310 babies were born from teenage mothers. The teenage pregnancy rate for 2008 for Mississippi was approximately 40 percent.

In case there is a teen thinking about having intercourse, is pregnant, or has a parent or guardian that has questions, there are places to go in New Albany and Union County to get help, advice, and answers.

“At the health departments in Mississippi, we want to help young ladies know all of the information before pregnancy happens,” said Byers.

At the Union County Health Department, anyone can request brochures and information about intercourse, pregnancy, abstinence, parenting, and the many birth control options available as well.

Byers said, “For anyone interested in learning about the birth control options, they can come by the health department and talk to someone that will counsel them on the best option available for that particular person. We have pregnancy tests, condoms, hormonal birth control pills, and other forms. They can come to the health department and if the young woman qualifies, we can prescribe her birth control pills right then and there so she doesn’t have to go to a pharmacy with a prescription and wait to get it filled out.”

“Teenage pregnancy is always a concern. A majority of the pregnancies are unwanted and to unwed mothers,” said Byers.

The Union County Health Department is located on 252 Carter Avenue in New Albany and their phone number is 534-1926.

If a child is registered in school and has questions or concerns, the child/student can talk to their school nurse, school counselor, principal, or teacher.

The New Albany School District and Union County School District both practice ‘Abstinence Only Education,’ which means teaching students to not engage in intercourse whatsoever.

Jill Robbins, a registered nurse at New Albany High School, said that the number of pregnant teens has decreased dramatically at NAHS since last year.

The ‘Abstinence Only Education’ is a class that is taught in the 8th, 9th, and 12th grade classes and parental consent is required for a student to be enrolled in this course. ‘Sex Respect’ is taught in the 7th grade and NAHS is currently trying to implement an abstinence program for 10th and 11th graders.

“Any student who thinks they could be pregnant is give phone numbers to the health department and First Choice Center for Women,” said Robbins.

First Choice Center for Women is formerly Sav-A-Life Ministry and formerly the Pregnancy Testing Center, but recently changed their name. They still provide free and confidential services to anyone that has questions about abstinence, parenting, pregnancy, and any other concerns.

Lacretia Wilkinson, executive director for First Choice Center for Women, said that her facility is open to all females no matter the age to come and get information about abstinence, birth control options, adoption options, and any other information a girl or young woman might need. Counselors are also on hand to discuss any concerns.

All of the information, including pregnancy tests, are free and all of the conversations between the female and counselor are kept confidential. The center offers free classes in parenting, marriage, single-parenting, baby care, and there is a post-abortion Bible study there as well. The facility is sponsored by many churches in the city and county as well as civic organizations.

“We will help teach them how to parent in a Godly way. It is wonderful to give them someone to lean on and give them hope and inspiration during this time,” said Wilkinson.

There is a nurse at the center at all times and free sonagrams are available for the expecting mother to see their child for the first time. Wilkinson calls this a “window to the womb.”

“We don’t turn away anyone. We are here with open arms,” said Wilkinson.

First Choice Center for Women is open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment only on Friday and Saturday. Call 534-7061 with questions.