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Teen Pregnancy Risks Underline Need for Abstinence, Says Leading New York Obstetrician at Medical Symposium

Sexually transmitted infections and diseases are not the only health risks associated with teen sexual activity. Pregnancy itself is a risk factor, since teens in New York City have a higher rate of complications requiring hospitalization than do pregnant women in any other age category.

This was the theme of the talk by Dr. Kevin D. Reilly, Chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center in the Bronx, who was a keynote speaker at the first Healthy Respect Medical Symposium on Sexual Health. The health risks associated with teen pregnancy point out the need for quality abstinence education programs such as Healthy Respect, which provide young persons with the tools needed for healthy marriages, Dr. Reilly said.

Teens experience a disproportionate number of complications during pregnancy, he pointed out. In New York, 16.9 percent of women under 20 years of age are hospitalized during pregnancy, compared with 13 percent of women ages 20-24 and 12.3 percent of women who are 35 and over. The lowest rate of hospitalization (9.3 percent) is among pregnant women between the ages of 25-34.

Complications for teens include toxemia, pre-term labor and various infections. Teens also face greater social, economic, familial and personal problems, he said.

“Clearly, there are health benefits to avoiding teen pregnancy that indicate the value of abstinence programs,” Dr. Reilly said. “I think it is realistic to teach and to expect abstinence. More teens need to hear the message that it is OK to be abstinent, and that it will have significant benefits for medical health.”

Contraceptive methods, including the Pill and condoms, can give teens a false sense of security, he added. No contraceptive method is 100 percent effective, he noted, citing statistics for unintended pregnancies associated with a wide range of contraceptive methods. Teens are especially prone to inconsistent or incorrect use of contraceptives, which increases the failure rate and the chance of pregnancy, he added. The only sure method of avoiding pregnancy is to abstain from sex, Dr. Reilly stressed.

Abstinence makes good sense for teens in terms of health, happiness and success in life, he concluded.

The Healthy Respect Medical Symposium on Sexual Health, held at the Philipsburg Performing Arts Center in Yonkers, N.Y., was part of the Healthy Respect holistic approach to abstinence that involves teens with their parents, guardians, schools and communities. The symposium brought together physicians, educators, public officials, community and religious leaders, parents and others who are concerned about the health, welfare and future of New York’s young people.

Healthy Respect is an abstinence education program that trains its own instructors to teach in the classroom in male-female teams for 20 sessions. Beginning its fourth year, Healthy Respect has reached more than 3,000 middle school and high school students in New York City, Yonkers and Long Island.