By Lenzy Krehbiel-Burton

Although data indicates teen birth rates are decreasing steadily, Native teenage girls continue to have a higher birth rate than their non-Native classmates.

At 34.8 and 22.3 percent respectively, Indigenous teens have higher birth rates than their non-Native classmates, both nationally and in Oklahoma.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data published Jan. 10, Oklahoma’s teen birth rate continues to be higher across the board than the national average, despite dropping by 51 percent over the past 25 years.

Among Oklahoma girls ages 10-14, the birth rate is 0.3 for every 1,000, while the national rate is 0.2. For girls age 15-19, the national birth rate is 18.8. Among Oklahomans that age, it is 29.7.

Even with the declines, Indigenous Oklahomans count for 17 percent of all teen births as of December 2018.

Additionally, 41 percent of Indigenous Oklahoma teen mothers birthed a second child within 18 months of their first. Rapid repeat pregnancies run a higher risk of health problems, including premature labor, uterine rupture and anemia for the mother as well as placental abruption and low birth weight for the baby.

An obstetrician-gynecologist, Dr. Greggory Woitte has been the chief medical officer for Indian Health Service’s Oklahoma City Service Unit for the last 14 years.

In an effort to address the higher rates of teenage pregnancies, IHS partnered with rural school districts in its service unit to provide clinics and fact-based health education offerings to both male and female students.

Aside from HIV/AIDS prevention, Oklahoma currently does not require school districts to teach sex education. State statute mandates any sexual education courses offered emphasize abstinence and allow parents to determine their child’s participation.

The unit’s pharmacies have also made an effort to facilitate access to multiple types of contraception, including longer lasting forms such as intrauterine devices.

“We’re committed to providing the resources,” Woitte said. “I’m not sure if there’s necessarily greater demand, but teenagers think about sex no matter whether they’re Native, Caucasian, African American or Hispanic.

“Teenagers are able to come in, get the contraception and are able to understand what they want. We have a lot more availability than what we once did … because IHS has made that commitment and made the resources available.”