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Teen pregnancy on Guam

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by Lannie Walker

Guam - Chamorro culture has long been intertwined with the Catholic Church, which has long preached against the use of contraception. "You cannot be open to life and use contraceptive because the experience of sex is going to be totally different," noted Father Francis Walsh.

The priest attempts to clarify for us a recent comment made by Pope Benedict the XVI on the use of condoms, saying the pope was referring only to prostitutes with HIV. "What the Pope said was in a process of trying to bring that person to a greater awareness of the harm," he continued, "he is doing the first step is to make him responsible at least to try if you cannot get him to abandon the lifestyle altogether, at least, to diminish the evil. So what the Pope is talking about is the lesser of two evils."

So while the Catholic stance on contraceptives has not changed for the general population Public Health officials here on Guam juggle with teen sex education in a largely Catholic community. 

Lynn Manibusan, community health supervisor and registered nurse with the Family Planning Program at Public Health, says it is all about options, adding, "Teenagers can come here to the Department of Public Health to receive counseling on all type of birth control and if faith is an issue they can also receive counseling on abstinence and natural family planning."

Federal program coordinator bureau family planning Raymond Salas says they also conduct outreaches at local schools in an effort to spread information on teen pregnancy-while still being sensitive to religious beliefs. "You know, we are mindful of because of the community's makeup and faith," he said. Making sure parents are aware of what their children are being taught is critical, says Salas. "When we talk about prevention and family planning, more importantly the contraceptives that we have concurrence and approvals from parents," he added.

But does the high rate of Catholics translate to a high rate of teen pregnancy? No, according to administrator of the Bureau of Family Planning Margarita Gay.  She told KUAM News, "Maybe you see it, but you don't know if they are teenagers. They might just be young-looking."

She says teen pregnancies account for only 3 to 5 percent of all pregnancies on Guam. The most recent figures available by Public Health show in 2007 of the 3,492 pregnancies, 141 occurred in women between the ages of 15 to 17. Nationally the number is much greater at 22 percent. Ethnicity does not seem to play a large role in the likely hood of teen pregnancy here on Guam - numbers in the Micronesia population are just slightly higher, according to Gay.

"There is a slight increase in islanders but locals, Filipinos, Chamorro - they are with in the range," she said.

If a teenager wants to prevent pregnancy Manibusan says they are there to help by giving out free condoms or emergency contraceptives. So for Guam teenagers whether they subscribe to one school of thought, Fr. Francis says, "The use of condoms destroys the whole notion of marriage."

Either way, resources are available to them to find the type sexual education that works for them, says Manibusan, "We teach them about a woman's choice - it's their body, what they believe in."

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