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New York Times columnist Gail Collins isn’t on board with cutting education spending to balance the budget in Texas, one of the fastest-growing states in the land.
"Nobody wants to see underperforming, overcrowded schools being deprived of more resources anywhere. But when it happens in Texas, it’s a national crisis," Collins writes in her Feb. 16 column.
The column continues: "The birth rate there is the highest in the country... Texas ranks third in teen pregnancies — always the children most likely to be in need of extra help. And it is No. 1 in repeat teen pregnancies."
We wondered if Collins pegged how the state ranks.
Responding to our request for backup information, Collins pointed us to data from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a nonprofit that produces statistics and other information frequently used by teen pregnancy prevention groups. Citing the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the campaign reported in December that Texas had the third-highest teen birth rate among girls age 15-19 in 2008, behind Mississippi and New Mexico.
Collins also cited Susan Tortolero, director of the University of Texas Prevention Research Center in Houston whom Collins quotes in her column, as a source.
In an interview, Tortolero told us that Collins referred to pregnancy rates when it would have been more accurate to cite birth rates. Texas has the fourth-highest teen pregnancy rate nationally, Tortolero said, but the third-highest teen birth rate. "We’re No. 1 in teen repeat births, not pregnancies," she said.
Next, we sought teen pregnancy data from the Washington- and New York-based Guttmacher Institute, which studies and advocates on issues related to reproductive health.
In 2005, the most recent year for which there’s state-level data, Texas had the fourth-highest teen pregnancy rate among women ages 15-19, an institute report says. States with higher rates were Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico, which led the nation with 93 pregnancies for every 1,000 teenage women.
States with large teenage populations also had high numbers of teen pregnancies, according to the report. California reported the highest number of teen pregnancies in 2005 (96,490), followed by Texas, New York, Florida and Illinois (30,000-70,000 each).
Teen pregnancy rates declined in every state from 1988 through 2000, according to the report, and in every state save North Dakota from 2000 through 2005. Institute spokeswoman Rebecca Wind told us that according to institute studies on teen sexual behavior, improved contraception use accounted for approximately three-quarters of the decline in teen pregnancies.
Over the past couple decades, Texas has been among the 10 states with the highest teen pregnancy rates. In 1988, it had the 10th highest rate, according to the report. It had the eighth highest rate in 1992, second highest in 1996, and fourth highest in 2000.
Rochelle Tafolla, a spokeswoman at Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas, told us she didn’t know of a repeat teen pregnancy study — "pregnancy is a harder data point to track," she said. But according to September 2009 data by Child Trends, a nonprofit Washington-based research group, Texas led the nation in the percentage of all births to mother under age 20 that are repeat births in 2006.
When we asked Collins whether she confused birth rates and pregnancies in her column, she said: "You’re right."
Summing up? Collins incorrectly referred to Texas’ teen birth rate as a pregnancy rate — Texas actually ranks fourth in teen pregnancies, not third. We couldn’t find data for repeat teen pregnancies, but Texas leads the nation in repeat teen births.
We rate her statement as Mostly True.
The New York Times, Gail Collins column: Mrs. Bush, abstinence and Texas, Feb. 16, 2011
Child Trends, Facts at a glance: A fact sheet reporting national, state and city trends in teen childbearing, September 2009
Child Trends, Percentage of all teen births in large cities that are repeat births, 2006
Guttmacher Institute, U.S. teenage pregnancies, births and abortions: National and state trends and trends by race and ethnicity, January 2010
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 50-state and national comparisons, last modified January 2010, accessed March 1, 2011
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 50-state and national comparisons, last updated December 2010, accessed March 1, 2011
Kaiser Family Foundation, Teen birth rate per 1,000 population ages 15-19, 2008, accessed March 1, 2011
E-mail interview with Kyleen Wright, president, Texans for Life Coalition, Feb. 28, 2011
E-mail interview with Joe Pojman, executive director, Texas Alliance for Life, Feb. 28, 2011
E-mail interview with Rochelle Tafolla, vice president of marketing and communications, Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas, Feb. 28, 2011
Interview with Susan Tortolero, director, Prevention Research Center at the University of Texas in Houston, Feb. 28, 2011
E-mail interview with Gail Collins, columnist, The New York Times, March 2, 2011
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