Pregnancy pact, or loss of direction behind high school mothers?

The discovery since March that 17 girls at a Massachusetts high school are expecting babies has caused a sensation since Time magazine picked up the story from local newspapers last week. The number of pregnancies is more than four times the number at the 1200-student school last year. Principal, Joseph Sullivan, told Time that half the girls had confessed to making a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together, but the chairman of the school committee has since dismissed the idea. “My gut feeling is that there may have been some sort of pact after the fact -- you know, two girls who are pregnant say they’ll stick together,” said Greg Verga. One of the girls this week expressly denied any pact.

Naturally, authorities and the media have been keen to diagnose the underlying cause of the pregnancy spike in Gloucester, pact or no pact. Time’s report focuses on the “fiercely Catholic” character of the coastal town’s population and its opposition to making birth control easier to access. The school has a clinic offering pregnancy tests but the hospital which funds the clinic refused a bid by the nurse and doctor running it to offer contraceptives to students -- without parental consent if necessary. The two of them resigned. Time thinks the school “has done perhaps too good a job of embracing young mothers” -- teen parents are encouraged to take their children to a free on-site day-care centre -- and not a good enough job of sex education.

An important factor in the girls’ attitude may be the decline of the local fishing industry and its effect on families. “Families are broken,” says a school official. “Many of our young people are growing up directionless.” Motherhood seems to be one answer to that, and hit movies such as Juno and Knocked Up glamorise young, unwed mothers. One teenage mother recently graduated from Gloucester High School says the girls are “excited to finally have someone to love them unconditionally” -- meaning the baby, not the largely invisible males behind the scenes.

But if those reasons are important, contraceptives are not going to be the answer. Says Sarah Brown of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy: “This is not a story about sex education. This is a story about a failure to take childbirth seriously. These girls could have had condoms distributed in their living rooms, and they would still have gotten pregnant.” ~ Time, June 18; USA Today, June 22  



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