HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) – The state’s teen birth rate has decreased by more than half in the last decade, according to newly released data from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control.

“It is a really significant drop,” said Beth De Santis, the chief executive officer of Fact Forward, an organization that advocates for adolescent reproductive health care in South Carolina. “It really goes to show that in a lot of ways, the messaging has been working, the methodology has been working, and we are making sure that young people have access to the right information at the right time to make the best decisions for them.”

But while 2020’s birth rate numbers have been encouraging to health leaders, it’s still too early to know if the teen pregnancy rate has increased during the pandemic. With COVID-19 hitting the United States in March 2020, babies conceived during that time would not be born until this year. Those numbers won’t be released until 2022.

The teen pregnancy rates detailed in DHEC’s annual report don’t reveal how many teens got pregnant during 2020. Instead, it is a calculation that combines that year’s birth rate, abortion rate and fetal death rate.

“When we look at the teen birth data, we don’t think of the pandemic impacting that yet,” De Santis said. 

About one in 25 South Carolina females between the ages of 15 to 19 gave birth in 2010, according to data from DHEC. Now, it’s about one in 50.

The lowest rate last year was in Abbeville County, where the live birth rate was 8.9 per 1,000 females between the ages of 15 and 19. The highest rate was in Hampton County, at 47.4 – meaning nearly one in 20 teens there had a live birth in 2020. That rate is followed by Colleton, at 42.5 per 1,000, and Jasper, at 41.9. Marlboro County comes in at the fourth highest rate, at 35.4 live births per 1,000 females between the ages of 15 and 19.

Horry County’s live birth rate for teens was 17.9 per 1,000, while Florence County’s was 28.6.

The data also reveals a racial divide. Since 2010, the live birth rate for teens of color has dropped from 54.4 to 25.6 per 1,000. In that same time, the rate for white teens has gone from 35.4 to 15.8.

De Santis said that gap is concerning. From 2019 to 2020, she said that the rate dropped by 7% for Black teens, but 20% for white teens. Meanwhile, the rate for Hispanic teens went up by 4%. 

“It is a big disparity,” she said. “The white teens aren’t having as many babies, but the Black teens aren’t closing that gap with the white teens.”

Fact Forward – which was formerly named the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, and now also works on education about diseases transmitted by sex – is aiming a project specifically at youth of color to close that divide. That work, targeting Orangeburg County, will help the organization see if it needs to tailor its approach between white and Black teens in order to be more effective. 

Within the last 25 years, South Carolina’s teen pregnancy rate has declined by 70%. Fact Forward hopes to continue that trend as works towards promoting easy access to reproductive health care, partnering with organizations and training people who work around young adults.

According to the South Carolina 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, about 37.4% of students ages 15 and older have had sexual intercourse, with about half of high school juniors reporting that they have. 

The survey reveals that among the students who have had sex, condoms were the most frequently used contraceptive during teens’ last sexual encounter, followed by birth control pills. However, among those who had sex, “no method” was more commonly used than an IUD or implant, withdrawal or a path, shot or birth control ring. 

Fact Forward has found that the key to preventing unwanted teen pregnancy is arguing that adults who are around a young person are aware of reproductive health facts, and are comfortable with having those conversations. That way, De Santis said, teens aren’t relying on what their friends know, or are using the internet, to learn about reproductive health. 

Teen pregnancy can be avoided if youth are given the right information by adults, De Santis said. 

She said 90% of teens want their parents to talk to them about relationships and sex, but that 90% of parents think children should learn from the school system, which, in turn, says that youth should learn about sex from their parents.

Fact Forward is working to train teachers, the medical community, health departments and pediatricians to help people become what she calls an “askable adult.”

“You want to become an askable adult,” she said. “It’s not something you can do overnight.”

Use the database below to search for teen birth rates for South Carolina counties in 2020.