COLLEGE PARK – Dr. Henry Foster, President Clinton’s unsuccessful nominee for surgeon general, called Wednesday for new steps nationwide to bring down the number of teenage pregnancies.
Foster told University of Maryland educators that if they wanted to see students on their campus, “you’ve got to keep them in the school and they need to be kept from getting pregnant.”
In the last few months, Foster, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn., has lectured across the East Coast on combatting teenage pregnancy.
The United States has “more pregnancies, more babies and more abortions,” Foster said. “We aren’t doing anything right.”
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there were about 991,000 teenage pregnancies in 1991, the most recent year for which such statistics were available. About 326,000 of those pregnancies ended in induced abortions.
Foster blames fear, ignorance, superstition and a lack of after-school programs for the country’s high teenage pregnancy rate.
It is a tragedy that there are 13- and 14-year-olds trying to get pregnant, Foster said. There were about 28,000 pregnancies among girls under 15 in 1991, according to federal statistics.
Foster’s own research has shown that most teenage girls get pregnant between 4 and 7 p.m., when school is out and parents are not yet home.
“Schools are not opened at the critical times,” he said. “We’ve got to have something else for them to do. When no things in life have value, it’s a rational response to want to have a baby.”
He also called for laws to hold fathers accountable.
Studies have shown that most men who impregnate teenage girls are over 20 years old, Foster said. He urged states to strengthen their statutory rape laws.
The teenage pregnancy problem is as much a suburban problem as an inner city one, Foster stressed. “Everyone says we need to get a hold of this inner city problem,” he said. “As young people say today — not.”
Teenage pregnancies do not plague only African-American communities, he said, pointing to a chart showing that the U.S. would still lead the world in teenage pregnancies if blacks were taken out of the equation.
Still, Health and Human Services figures suggest that teenage pregnancies are a bigger problem among African Americans. Roughly 216 of every 1,000 black female teenagers got pregnant in 1991, compared to 84 of every 1,000 whites and 180 of every 1,000 hispanics.
Foster became the Health and Human Services’ point person on teenage pregnancies after his nomination for surgeon general stalled in the U.S. Senate. In an interview after the speech, he said he was not bitter about the nomination process. The disappointing episode only made him more eager to serve in the administration in some way, he said. While he technically remains Clinton’s nominee, Foster said it was unlikely the Senate would ever vote on him. He said he is having ongoing discussions with Clinton about serving as an advisor on important youth issues. -30-