The latest data supplied by the Manchester Clinical Commissioning Group shows a decrease in 62% teenage conceptions, from 2,562 in 2008 to 978 in 2018.
The decrease shown by the latest figures fits into a national trend observed over the same year period, with teenage pregnancies dropping by 55% across the country.
Declining rates in teenage conception can be attributed to a variety of factors according, to a 2018 report by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.
“Teenagers’ lifestyles have shifted dramatically over the last ten, 15 years, with socialising amongst friends often taking place online,” said Katherine O’Brien, Associate Director of Communications and Campaigns for BPAS.
“With fewer in-person meetings taking place, there are also fewer opportunities for teenagers to engage in sexual activity.
“We also know there’s been a huge decline in binge drinking or heavy drinking among teenagers. Binge drinking is associated with unplanned sex and poor use of contraception. So if teenagers aren’t drinking heavily on a regular basis, together, then again we think that’s being reflected in the statistics.“
It’s been a very marked decline over the last ten years or so, and that seems here to stay. It would be worrying if that was to change or increase after lockdown.”
While the decrease in pregnancy rates has decreased dramatically, abortion rates have similarly decreased, albeit not to the same extent as the former, suggesting preventative methods are having more success.
“We’ve also seen a huge decline in under 18s accessing abortion services. So this shows teenagers aren’t becoming parents, and they’re not having as many abortions. It really is about the fact that teenagers aren’t falling pregnant in the same numbers as previously.”
The BPAS’s report showed that in 2006/07, 10% of those aged 16-17 and 15% of those aged 18-19 who attended a contraceptive clinic reported using long-acting reversible contraception, such as the implant, as their main method of contraception. By 2015/16, those figures had risen to 30% for both age groups.
Additionally, the same data supplied by the MCCG for the decrease in conception rates revealed that Manchester’s change in maternity rate in teens has also seen a substantial decline, to the point where it is lower than the abortion rate, whereas it was 2.8% higher ten years ago.
“It’s important that we remember for some young people, having a child at that point in their life is not the end of the world.
“Lots of teenage parents do a wonderful job and raise their children in loving environments, so we don’t want to stigmatise those young parents while also supporting others to avoid pregnancy.”
However, funding cuts to healthcare services have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, and there’s concern that contraception and clinic access will be severely hindered when lockdown ends.
“We know at the moment with the closure of lots of healthcare clinics, and difficulties accessing your GP, it’s going to be more difficult for people of all ages to access contraception,” said Katherine.
“[Sexual health services] are seen as a sort of Cinderella service in health care. It’s seen as a nice extra, and I think it’s in part due to how taboo talking about these kinds of issues still is in this society.
“It was a problem before COVID-19 and it’s going to be a bigger problem afterwards.”
A crucial aspect of the drop in pregnancy and abortion rates amongst teenagers, Katherine states, has been the change in mentality in teenagers and their desired outcomes for their life.
“The young people we spoke to were very engaged with the world around them, they had really clear thoughts about what they want from their future, they had good plans which they’d tell us. All those things can be massively disrupted by having an unplanned pregnancy.”
As part of their 2018 survey, BPAS found that 82% of the respondents stated they felt getting good grades and career success was a top priority for them.
Katherine said: “We want women of all ages to understand how to access abortion services, and to not feel stigmatised if they are experiencing an unplanned or unwanted pregnancy and that they’re able to access those services as swiftly as possible.”
“It’s about ensuring that young people who want to avoid pregnancy are able to do so, and they’re able to access abortion care if they need to.”