There was no Pregnancy Pact – Pregnant Gloucester Teen Speaks Out
Last week, TIME magazine reported on an alleged “pregnancy pact” made by teens at Gloucester High School, with school principal Joseph Sullivan claiming that “some girls seemed more upset when they weren’t pregnant than when they were” and indicating “early half the expecting students, none older than 16, confessed to making a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together.”
Yesterday, it was reported that there may not have been a pregnancy pact at all, and that the principal is “foggy” in his memory of how he heard such a thing in the first place. You know, because when there are 17 pregnant teens (4 times the usual number) in a 1,200-student high school and you hear that they formed a “pact” to become pregnant, that’s totally forgettable.
Seriously, what better way to proclaim that a lack of proper sex ed or lack of contraceptive availability has no bearing on these pregnancies than to suggest that the girls were sneakily and deliberately trying to become pregnant? These pregnancies have been blamed on Jamie Lynn Spears, the movie Juno, and the “fashion trend” of Hollywood babies, further removing responsibility to these girls from the local community.
Some commenters suggested that the presence of a day care at the school encouraged these girls to become pregnant, which I find to be just another form of “slut shaming” – it’s as though these folks believe, “You don’t deserve to finish your high school education, because you had teh sex.” (See this previous post for my take on school day care centers and education for pregnant teens) I think we can be reasonably certain that the natural sexual urges of teenagers had a lot more to do with their getting pregnant than some feeling that they weren’t properly taking advantage of the school day care.
Keep in mind that the principal also claimed that “The community won’t tolerate access to birth control at the high school.” The students receive some sex ed in middle school and their first year of high school, but it is an abstinence-based program. A nurse-practioner for the high school stated that “Kids have identified that there’s not easy, confidential reproductive health care in Gloucester.” According to reports, “two officials at the high school health center resigned to protest the local hospital’s refusal to distribute contraceptives through the school without parental consent.”
This completely ignores the reality that “nationwide, 47.8% of [high school] students had ever had sexual intercourse,” there are clearly barriers in place in this community for teens who want to be sexually responsible.
Others have referred to Gloucester as a “fishing town,” assuming that girls may not be as motivated to prevent pregnancy when there are few apparent options available to them for their futures. Again, this community responsibility goes unaddressed in favor of speculation about how pacts and Juno may have glamorized teen pregnancy.
Finally, one of the teens from Gloucester has spoken out, through an appearance on Good Morning America. Seventeen-year-old Lindsey Oliver, who reports having been on birth control when her unplanned pregnancy occurred, says:
“There was definitely no pact. There was a group of girls already pregnant that decided they were going to help each other to finish school and raise their kids together. I think it was just a coincidence.”
Ms. Oliver was also asked whether distribution of birth control at the school (which she believes officials have erred in not providing). She smartly replied: “The kids are obviously having it anyway; there are 17 pregnant girls.” Ms. Oliver may very well be smarter than her principal on this matter.
It remains to be seen whether the rise in pregnancies at Gloucester High School is merely a statistical blip – the rate of pregnancy at the school still does not represent an alarming deviation from national norms. A look at recent CDC reports suggests that births to teens have risen in recent years, but provides an incomplete picture of teen pregnancy in the United States. Meanwhile, we can continue to provide abstinence-only education and put in barriers to contraceptive use, while blaming pop culture for teenage pregnancies, or we can look at how our communities and policies may be failing young people. One of these is easy (and doesn’t seem to improve anything), and one is hard. Which will the people of Gloucester, MA choose? What will you?
[I should note that it will be interesting to hear from the other girls, and whether they confirm the notion that there was no pact.]