I was shocked and appalled to read the Time magazine piece published online Wednesday about a pregnancy pact at Gloucester High School in Massachusetts that led to 17 pregnancies over this past school year in girls age 16 and younger. This is four times the number of pregnancies that the 1,200-student school had last year, according to Time. Apparently, a number of girls made a pact to get pregnant in order to bring someone into the world who would love them unconditionally. The school also provides immense support for teenage parents, allowing them to bring their babies to a school daycare center. After administering more than 100 pregnancy tests to students this year, the story says, the school nurse in Gloucester was so desperate that she wanted to start handing out contraceptives without parental consent.
The debate over how to prevent teen pregnancy is one that's raging throughout the country. Is it better to teach teens about contraception or just encourage them to abstain from sex until they're married? Just yesterday, women's health advocates were celebrating a planned budget increase of $15 million in Title X family planning services, which provide contraception and reproductive health services to low-income women and men. They were also happy to see that funding for abstinence-only education programs was not slated to be increased. (I was, though, dismayed to hear that a planned amendment to the funding bill probably won't be included in the final legislation. It would have allowed drug companies to once again sell deeply discounted birth control pills to college health centers—a practice that had to stop last year under new Medicaid rules.)
But I think the solution shouldn't focus solely on sex education. (The girls in Gloucester got sex-ed classes—although the classes ended freshman year of high school, according to Time.) I think educators need to address the larger problem: how to foster self-esteem, long-term goals, and pursuit of dreams in girls from broken families facing economic hardships. Supposedly, the Gloucester community is suffering a severe decline in its fishing industry, which almost certainly has put a strain on families. And desperation often drives some girls to get pregnant—perhaps a way to ensure that some piece of them will survive. I think we all need to realize that handing out condoms isn't the complete answer. I previously reported on what's needed for real pregnancy prevention in an article about abstinence education.