The Real Story Behind the Teen Pregnancy “Pact”


Within hours of the publication
of the Time magazine article suggesting that a spike in teen pregnancies at a Gloucester, Massachusetts, high school had been spurred by a "pact" made by several students to get pregnant and raise their children together, panic broke out. The story shot straight into breathless
headlines and onto the anxious lips of talk show hosts. Maybe the girls
made the pact because they want love! Maybe it’s because of the economy!
Maybe it’s because they watched Juno! Maybe it’s because
they admire Jamie Lynn Spears! Maybe it’s the school’s fault
for providing day care!

It turns out that the "pact"
may have been an exaggeration — or an outright fabrication. But pact or
no pact, the public furor over this incident reveals our profound discomfort over the question what to do about teens who decide, for whatever
reason, that they want to have children.

Why Might Teens Become Pregnant, Intentionally or Not?

First, we need to consider the
circumstances in which the girls made their decisions. School funding
cuts had eliminated Gloucester High’s sexuality education classes.
If the difficult realities of pregnancy and parenting had been in the curriculum, perhaps some of these teens might have made a different decision. This is a problem across the country, where "abstinence-only-until-marriage"
programs, which censor vital information about contraception and sexually
transmitted infections, are too often the "sex education" of choice.

But sex ed alone cannot solve
the problem. Much has been made of Gloucester’s depressed economy
and lack of community resources. Without adequate youth programming,
or many options for girls after graduation, one can understand why a young
woman might be excited to become a mother before she’s finished high
school. The most successful community strategies for preventing
teen pregnancy give young women the resources to pursue dreams that
might otherwise seem unattainable or unrealistic.

And then there was the lack
of access to reproductive health services. A school nurse reportedly
quit when she was told she could not provide students with confidential
access to contraception. Whether or not this contributed to the
rise in student pregnancies, it clearly highlights the importance of
making family planning options available for those teens who do become
sexually active.

We would hope that with positive
support from adults, community youth development programming, and educational
and economic opportunities, these young women and others like them would feel they had other options. But what about the teens that
do become pregnant — intentionally or unintentionally — and decide
to continue the pregnancy? Nationwide, there were 138,000 births
by young women aged 15 to 17 in 2002.

What About Teens Who Decide to Continue Their Pregnancies?

On the one hand, there are
sobering statistics about the outcomes for teen parents and their children.
Young women who have babies in adolescence are less likely than their
peers to complete high school and go on to college (as evidenced by
New York City’s 70 percent dropout rate for pregnant students in 2003),
and more likely to experience poverty later in their lives.

On the other hand, as pro-choice
advocates we believe in a woman’s right to make her own decision about
whether and when to have children, including the decision to become
pregnant and continue a pregnancy. This right is fundamental to
human dignity, and it belongs to minors as well as adults. Legal
rights do not depend on whether someone else thinks the pregnancy is
a good idea.

The Gloucester case points
to the need to strike a balance between identifying the problems that
led to the difficult situation these young women (and indeed, all pregnant
teens) find themselves in and respecting the life-changing decisions
pregnant girls are forced to make. We have to come to terms with the
fact that some girls will decide to get pregnant, and some of those
who become pregnant will want to continue the pregnancy and keep their
babies. We cannot run from the complicated questions intentional teen
pregnancies raise.

Pregnant and parenting girls
have as much of a right to complete their education as any other student.
Support services provide a vital resource for girls who have made the
decision to become mothers. Research shows that quality school-based
support programs for pregnant and parenting teens and their children
go a long way toward supporting not only academic success, but future
economic stability and well-being. Rather than suggesting that these
programs encourage teen pregnancy, we need to applaud this school’s
commitment to keeping all students on the path to graduation and advocate
for increased support for pregnant and parenting students in schools
across the country.

A minor who is pregnant, deliberately
or otherwise, cannot make her best choices without information and support.
These young women did not get pregnant to make the nightly news.
The frenzy of scandal should not eclipse our society’s responsibility
to advocate for and support the reproductive rights of all young women.

Related Posts

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

  • invalid-0

    This blogger states that she believes a minor has the fundamental right to make her own decisions about Reproduction?–since when? Isn’t that in itself and oxymoron? I mean the reasons they are listed as minors is that under the law, they are considered legal “idiots” incapable more making rational decisions. That is why they have parents that act as legal guardians and advocates for them. And, when the parents refuse to properly execute their parental responsiblities under the law, the Courts take up this role and advocate for them.
    There is even no national consensus for older well established women to make their own reproductive rights decisions so why does this blogger make such a profoundly
    biased statement? Contrary to many postings, most Americans are conservative by nature. And while many would agree that women have the right to make their own decisions about contraception, it is Society’s right to set the parameters–and no, most Americans would not agree a woman has the right to a partial birth abortion–or even the right to make her own abortion decisions. Most Americans believe that once a woman becomes pregnant, the right of the potential child must also be taken into account and, the potential interests and rights of the father should also be brought into the equation.
    Statistically, it has not been shown that abstinance as a governmental advocacy policy is working. However, it has also been shown that the more liberal approach of providing both condoms and other birth control methods (i.e. Planned Parenthood style policies) do not work either. The truth is that neither has proven particularly effective in preventing pregnancies and reducing the abortion rate as national policies.
    So why then should Americans continue to pay for products, services and programs that do not work?
    The only policy that will work 100 per cent of the time is to dry up the federal and state dollars that keep liberal
    feminists in this line of work in which they not only advocate public policies that they feel comfortable with, but also to be paid handsomely–again on tax payer dollars–for the privilege of doing so. Teenagers that want to have children should do so–provided they get no help whatsoever from the American Taxpayer. Parents of minors that want to have babies should be held financially responsible for any and all expenses the federal government undergoes to facilitate child rearing. When the financial incentives to
    reproduce are removed, then we will stop having this advocacy oriented and bigoted dialogue from both sides–and hopefully a commensurately reduced abortion rate as well.
    The decision to abort or conceive a child should be left to the discrection of consenting adults–provided that they are willing to take up the financial and emotional consequences of doing so.

  • amanda-marcotte

    As the amount of education and contraception access for teenagers rose throughout the 90s, the birth rate went down.  Only now that we’ve been restricting education and access has it gone back up again.  Coincidence? Yeah, believe what you want to.

     

    But regardless, just because a lot of people would like to believe that teenage children are property with fewer rights than your dog, that doesn’t hold water.  Realistically, minors get more and more rights as they get older.  And one right they have is a right to own their own emerging sexualities.  As adults, instead of seeing teenage sexuality as an opportunity to increase our power and control, we should see it as a responsibility to educate and guide. People confuse the two, but they are very different.  Education is teaching about contraception, making it available, and teaching about the difficulties of parenting.  Control and power is about trying to force the final decision.

  • invalid-0

    Most Americans believe that once a woman becomes pregnant, the right of the potential child must also be taken into account and, the potential interests and rights of the father should also be brought into the equation

    Care to back that up with some facts? Poll results are not trustworthy because the sample size is often too small.

    The fetus is not recognized as a person by the U.S. Constitution; therefore it has no right to be born. I also object to the notion the father has rights over the woman’s. He can have input, certainly, but he has no right to dictate a course of action because the potential mother of the potential child is not his property. Even if they are married.
    If he doesn’t like that,then he should of thought of the possibility of pregnancy before he unzipped his pants.

  • invalid-0

    “This blogger states that she believes a minor has the fundamental right to make her own decisions about Reproduction?–since when? Isn’t that in itself and oxymoron? I mean the reasons they are listed as minors is that under the law, they are considered legal “idiots” incapable more making rational decisions. That is why they have parents that act as legal guardians and advocates for them. “

    So if minors have no rights…

    Why, in your opinion, do unborn babies have the “right” to be born? Are they not minors?

  • invalid-0

    “This blogger states that she believes a minor has the fundamental right to make her own decisions about Reproduction?–since when? Isn’t that in itself and oxymoron? I mean the reasons they are listed as minors is that under the law, they are considered legal “idiots” incapable more making rational decisions. That is why they have parents that act as legal guardians and advocates for them. ”

    So if minors have no rights…

    Why, in your opinion, do unborn babies have the “right” to be born? Are they not minors?

  • amanda-marcotte

    So instead of dealing with what I ask, you’re going to be maudlin. 

     

    Sorry, no.   I won’t compare a living, breathing, thinking, feeling child with a fetus that’s only half-formed.  I don’t hate children enough for that.  I tend to think of them as people. But it’s clear that you don’t—first you don’t think they have basic rights, and then you compare them to mindless collections of tissue and blood.  What next?  Are you going to suggest children are tumors?

  • invalid-0

    Why do you refer to the birth rate and not the pregnancy rate? They’re not the same thing, ya know.

  • invalid-0

    I think this is a great post.

    There are so many reasons for which teenagers become pregnant that it is hard to know where to start, but pointing the finger squarely at sex education and citing Sweden and the Netherlands is a bit of a no brainer. Yes, both countries have very low teenage pregnancy and birth rates but they have vastly differing approaches to sex education.

    In my experience, teenagers who choose to become pregnant and keep their babies do so because there is little in life to deter them. Motherhood is an accepted route to adulthood and gives you a level of respect that few 16 year olds can hope for alone. I think that on the whole they do choose, but it’s a complex yet narrow field of choice and the teenagers concerned may find it difficult to admit or articulate, particularly to middle class health workers.

    The answer, as already stated, is surely to be found in the economic structure. This is the biggest similarity between Sweden and the Netherlands and the biggest difference between them and the UK and USA. The greater the divide between rich and poor, the less the likelihood of certain groups behaving in the way they are ‘supposed’ to.

    Lastly, it’s often overlooked that the horror of ‘teenage pregnancy’ only sprang forth in the 1970s. Until relatively recently it was considered not only respectable but desirable to have babies young. The big change, though, is that teenagers who have babies are no longer getting married, and that in itself is no bad thing. Research showed that in fact, those teenagers who choose to marry have a still higher educational dropout rate and higher chance of experiencing later life poverty than those who don’t.

  • invalid-0

    I think one has to be very careful with the use of terms.
    For example your comment…”As the amount of education and contraception access for teenagers rose throughout the 90′s, the birth rate went down…”
    This is not factually either accurate or verifyable. What is accurate is that statistically the birth rate for teenagers has been declining for the past 30 years–including the last 8 years which has been primarily focused on an abstinance only promotion by the Bush Administration. This is not my opinion, but a fact by consenus based on population studies by the Census Bureau.
    Therefore the Bush Administration has the right to state that ” Abstinance Education, ” does work (I personally do not agree with this statement, I merely point out that the argument can be both made and be factually substantiated).
    Your comment about teenage children ” …are property with fewer rights than your dog…” indicates that you need to do more homework about both the legal rights of children and the non-rights of dogs.
    Children–like dogs, are not capable of making rational informed decisions about their own interests–legally speaking. This gives children many rights that adults do not have. Dogs, do not have any rights under current law and are considered legal property. Children are not considered legal property. For example, it is perfectly legal to shoot one’s dog. And while many of us would–under certain conditions–love to do the same with our children, alas we are not allowed to shoot them as well.
    Teenagers range in age from 13 to 19. For obvious reasons, we do not ascribe the same rights or responsibilities to a 13 year old as we do to a 19 year old.
    My point is that your comments would have more credibility if they were a little more specific as to what we are discussing.
    But, I get the gist of your opinion and I certainly both welcome it and consider it just as valid as mine.
    Most parents would totally disagree with your comments about teens and contraception.
    Because children are the wards of parents–again under the law–it is THEY that should have the right to make decisions that THEY feel are in the best interests of the children that they are raising.
    When government and feminists that have no financial, moral or personal interests in these specific children decide to set both policy and take actions contrary to the wishes of the PARENTS, then conflict can and will arise.
    Furthermore, there is a dramatic and discernable difference between contraceptive education, and handing out contraceptives. Neither our government nor our institutions have any right handing out anything–regardless of what it is–to any minor without the specific consent of the parents. The rights and responsibilities of both parents and child are clearly delineated in current law.

  • invalid-0

    The reason the fetus is not recognized as a person by the Constitution of the United States is because it was too preposterous for a civilized society of that era to conceive of terminating a pregnancy. There were a number of reasons for this. The first being religious (children under judeo/christian) theology were considered “gifts from God.” As a matter of fact, both Jews and Christians believed that barren parents were somehow “cursed” by God. In earlier eras, we saw very high mortality rates in children, and since we were primarily an agrarian society, children were seen as financial assets in working the land.
    I certainly agree with your comment about men that do not like the idea of a pregnancy thinking about it before
    “he unzipped his pants.”
    That is why I and many other people believe that women should consider the consequences of children and the rights of the potential child and father “before she spreads her legs.”

  • invalid-0

    As a society, we believe in the inherent right of all creatures to life and to die with some level of compassion and dignity. A ” baby ” is a young or very young child. It would not be correct to say “…do unborn babies have a right to be born.” Once it is categorized as a “baby,” it has already been born and is thriving and yes at that point is it most certainly a minor. I think your question asks: “do all fetuses have a “right” to be born. Philosophically, all creatures have a “right to be born.” Once we define a creature, it implies some level of existence and therefore has a right to be born–or die as nature will allow. This is consistent with both religious and secular humanism. Unfortunately not all decisions are so cut and dry. Do severely handicapped children have a “right to be born?” To be honest I humbly and sheepishly admit I don’t know. And the reason for this is because I don’t have any idea as to the potential for this child to do good in our world. Nor is it appropriate for someone not given the responsibility or privilege (depending on how one views the issue) to make this decision.
    I do know that as our species evolves, the thought of such a bestial and primitive question will make future humans look at us with the same level of disgust and contempt as we look on Cannibalism today.

  • invalid-0

    **The reason the fetus is not recognized as a person by the Constitution of the United States is because it was too preposterous for a civilized society of that era to conceive of terminating a pregnancy. There were a number of reasons for this. The first being religious (children under judeo/christian) theology were considered “gifts from God.” As a matter of fact, both Jews and Christians believed that barren parents were somehow “cursed” by God.**

    There is no evidence that it ‘was too preposterous’ to have an abortion, as they have happened throughout the history of the US. Also, Christian churches have disagreed on the status of the fetus throughout history.

  • invalid-0

    Where do you get your ‘right to be born’ from – secular humanism defines a ‘right to be born’? What religion/denomination are you referring too?

  • invalid-0


    Because children are the wards of parents–again under the law–it is THEY that should have the right to make decisions that THEY feel are in the best interests of the children that they are raising. When government and feminists that have no financial, moral or personal interests in these specific children decide to set both policy and take actions contrary to the wishes of the PARENTS, then conflict can and will arise.
    —-

    So the parents can decide that a minor should have an abortion, even if she objects? Many parents want their teenage girls to have the abortion. Can they can decide decide that a pregnant minor, where they agree with the pregnancy, should have a C-section even if she doesn’t want it? They can decide that she should not get prenatal care at all, and instead support only the natural outcome of the pregnancy and not override nature with medical interventions?

  • invalid-0

    ***Do severely handicapped children have a “right to be born?” To be honest I humbly and sheepishly admit I don’t know. And the reason for this is because I don’t have any idea as to the potential for this child to do good in our world.***

    You have no idea if any child born will do good in the world, handicapped or not, so why single out the handicapped?

  • invalid-0


    That is why I and many other people believe that women should consider the consequences of children and the rights of the potential child and father “before she spreads her legs.”

    So she should consider that the father may decide Csection is better than vaginal birth? Or he objects to Csections altogether and she feels its the right option? Or he wants fetal surgery to correct a problem? Or that he believes in the natural outcome of pregnancy so wants no prenatal medical care? She “spread her legs” so why should he not have these rights simply because they possibly differ from your own perspectives?

  • invalid-0

    Just to be clear here on ‘What religion/denomination are you referring too?’

    I’m well aware of the usual anti-abortion religions such as the Catholic Church current policy. Just making a point here that there are Jewish, Christian and other religions that do not take this stance and could not be included in your list as such. Also very interested in any secular humanism statement you can find on the ‘right to be born’.

  • invalid-0

    Faultroy said:
    ******
    “For example your comment…”As the amount of education and contraception access for teenagers rose throughout the 90′s, the birth rate went down…”
    This is not factually either accurate or verifyable. What is accurate is that statistically the birth rate for teenagers has been declining for the past 30 years–including the last 8 years which has been primarily focused on an abstinance only promotion by the Bush Administration. This is not my opinion, but a fact by consenus based on population studies by the Census Bureau.”
    ******
    This sparked my curiosity, so I checked it out. Actually, the Census Bureau doesn’t maintain these statistics, the National Center for Health Statistics (a unit of the CDC) does. I found stats for 1990-2005, and include a sampling below:
    Total births:

  • Year Age 16 Age 15
  • 1990 57901 27703
  • 1991 60511 28810
  • 1992 60136 29267
  • 1993 61960 30074
  • 1994 63125 30742
  • 1995 62174 30734
  • 1996 60287 28540
  • 1997 57038 26340
  • 1998 55033 24777
  • 1999 51516 22896
  • 2000 48581 21845
  • 2001 45367 20150
  • 2002 43147 18703
  • 2003 41344 18238
  • 2004 41860 18274
  • 2005 41064 18249

    As you can see, the teen birth rates rose during the early 90s, dramatically dropped from 1994 to 2003, and seem (given the limited data) to have remained roughly steady since then. In my opinion, these data support Amanda Marcotte’s description of the trends better than faultroy’s, except that it appears teen births have stayed roughly constant since the implementation of the Bush policies.