LAWTON, OK (KSWO) -A new national report says the overall birthrate among teens has fallen, but the birthrate for Oklahoma's younger teenagers remains high.
Statistics from the CDC in 2014 show Oklahoma's birth rate among teenage girls between 15 and 17 is one of the highest in the nation. There were approximately 17 births per 1,000 girls in that age group, statewide.
Executive director Rita Willoughby, a local expert in sexual health education, says education is key when it comes to curbing the rate of teen pregnancies. She says many pregnant teens come in unsure of how exactly they became pregnant.
For 21 years, Willoughby has been working for the Pregnancy Resource Center of Southwest Oklahoma educating teens who often times have never had a lesson in sex education.
"Sometimes, they don't even realize that they can get pregnant when they are having sex before marriage and so it's a surprise to them and I think it stems from a lack of interaction perhaps with mom and dad sitting around the family table," Willoughby.
Willoughby says they had 119 clients in 2015 that were age 15 to 19 who came in asking questions about pregnancy tests, ultra sounds and adoption. She says many of them no longer have the help they need after the center had to discontinue its sexual health and relationship education program with local middle school and high school students when funding was cut in 2008. Since then, she says they've had 8 to 10 schools contact them asking for them to come back.
"Schools in Comanche County and surrounding areas, they started calling us because they said while we were there, their numbers for teen pregnancy rates lowered and since we hadn't been there their teen pregnancy rates increased," Willoughby said.
However, Willoughby says the teens will have to come to them individually without finding.
"What we are doing now is educating one by one and trying to really create a culture for life and responsible behavior. Risky behaviors run on the same track," Willoughby said.
Willoughby says above all, she wants the teens of Comanche County and the surrounding areas to know they are there for them in their time of need.
"Everybody needs a safe place to go. They need to go somewhere that they will be loved and accepted and that they will get truth. Real truth about what is going on. About what their future could look like and how we could help them with that decision making process," Willoughby said.
The center offers free and confidential services. Lawton Public Schools and many other surrounding districts do not provide a course in sex education, and it is not required by law.
Although the birthrate for teenage girls ages 15 to 17 remains high, the report by the CDC states the birthrate for teens 15 to 19 dropped roughly 30 percent in Oklahoma from 2007 to 2014.