Seventeen girls at Gloucester High School (Massachusetts) are pregnant this summer and the story has been picked up by media around the world. Normally, the incidence of teenage pregnancies at a single school doesn’t make global news. But this story is different.
The Gloucester High story became newsworthy for a reason that is now disputed: The girls who became pregnant allegedly made a “pact” to deliberately get pregnant and to raise their babies together.
The seventeen pregnancies quadrupled the number of pregnancies at the school the year before. Nationwide, the teen birth rate is up about 3%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This jump reverses a 15 year downward trend. The birth rate is also up for women in their twenties, thirties, and even forties.
No time was lost when it came to pointing fingers at the probable causes of the Gloucester High situation: the moral values of the girls themselves, recent movies like “Juno” that celebrate young and unwed mothers, the collapse of the local fishing economy in Gloucester and family disintegration, the lack of readily available contraceptives, insufficient abstinence-only education, and the lure of free on-site daycare at the high school for young mothers. Some opined that it was the girls’ rejection of abortion, while others said it was just the typical muddled thinking of teenagers.
THEN, over the past week an intriguing new element was raised by local residents. According to the Boston Herald: “School Committee Chairman Greg Verga said the media frenzy turned out to be a blessing in disguise. ‘Maybe we can help others,’ Verga said.”
In other words, this isn’t merely a problem of salacious news media. Some Gloucester leaders like Verga are arguing that people urgently need to talk about the underlying values.
So, please, help us all with this national discussion:
How do you interpret the situation at Gloucester and the national trend in teen birth rates? How have these issues been handled in your community? What values should we use to determine remedies and policy solutions?
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