Tuesday, August 17, 1999

Unwed pregnancy rate
increases in Hawaii

By Helen Altonn


Hawaii is following a national trend with unwed, pregnant women often choosing to delay marriage, according to a state Health Department official.

That's one reason for a 4.6 percent increase in Hawaii out-of-wedlock births between 1994 and 1997, says Loretta J. Fuddy, chief of the Maternal and Child Health Branch.

Unintended pregnancies also may have increased because family planning resources were reduced about four years ago, she said.

While the overall unwed pregnancy rate is up, however, teen pregnancies have declined in Hawaii, as well as across the country.

Fuddy said this is "because of a concerted effort of looking at various ways to approach teens -- abstinence, health education programs and availability of contraceptives. Multiple strategies have worked."

The peer education program, with teens talking to teens, also is effective, Fuddy added.

With one in three babies born to unwed parents nationally, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has given states a $100 million incentive to reduce unwed birth rates.

California, Michigan, Alabama, Massachusetts and the District of Columbia are first in line for the funds. But they must prove by Sept. 1 that abortions didn't increase between 1995 and 1997.

Only 12 states showed a decrease in unmarried births, said Alvin Onaka, state registrar and acting chief of the Health Department's Office of Health Status Monitoring.

"We're out of the loop (for bonus money)," he said. "We're one of the states going up."

But Hawaii argued to the federal agency that it would be difficult to get the unmarried birth rate down here because births to married women have decreased, he said. Overall, he said, births to Hawaii residents have declined. The number of births to unmarried women actually dropped, from 5,523 in 1994 to 5,191 in 1997.

But the proportion of unwed births rose from 28.8 percent of all births to 30.1 percent. Births to married women in that period decreased from 72 percent to 70 percent, Onaka said.

Fuddy said the increase in births to single women isn't surprising because there is a tendency for women to delay marriage, even if they have a child, "until the relationship is more stable."

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