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March 1, 2010

Revisiting 'The Gloucester 18'

Latest film, endorsed by health experts, in Thursday premiere

Read how one young family has pressed on

Two years after a dramatic spike in teen pregnancies at Gloucester High School began to draw local attention — and 20 months after a global media circus descended upon the city on reports of an alleged "pregnancy pact" — a third film about the saga is headed for a special big-screen premiere Thursday night in Cambridge.

But in contrast to the locally panned and fictionalized Lifetime Networks film "The Pregnancy Pact," which reopened raw wounds for many in Gloucester last month, this independent documentary film is drawing praise from local and state health officials close to the teen pregnancy issue then and now.

The filmmakers are showcasing "The Gloucester 18" in a special screening and post-film panel discussion organized by the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy.

"What we saw in the film was the true spectrum of what happens in teen pregnancy," said Dr. Brian Orr, who directed Gloucester High's health clinic as the 2007-2008 pregnancy spike unfolded.

"There was the story of a premature baby that is in the film, and an infant death; teen mothers are at higher risk for prematurity and sudden infant death syndrome," Orr noted.

"What played out here is not the pregnancy pact, but the reality of what happens with teen pregnancies," he said. "It's not a pretty picture."

Orr noted the prevalent outcomes of teen pregnancies, with the young parents dealing with poverty, prematurity, miscarriage, abortion and other issues.

"I think what this movies helps to show is that as a result of our teenage pregnancy crises, we had a systemic paralysis," he said. "There was total paralysis on how to handle it and even discuss it. But I think we got over that in Gloucester in regard to having the conversation about what do you do and what's helpful."

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