GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

Opinion

June 23, 2008

The challenge: Showing teens that pregnancy is no answer

As the global media spotlight on Gloucester starts to fade today, we are left with very few answers and a ton of questions surrounding this community's teen pregnancy crisis.

And the idea of several Gloucester High School girls deciding it would be a good idea to get pregnant and become moms together seems as truly stunning today as it did when we first reported in March that a number of the pregnancies at the school this year were very much intentional.

Yet the key question all of us in this community must consider — city officials, school officials, health-care providers, parents and, yes, teenagers — is how did this happen? And what can we possibly do to ensure it doesn't happen again? How is there such a disconnect — and in our community, apparently more than most — that a number of our young girls would somehow reach to the conclusion that it would be sort of cool to have a baby at age 15 or 16.

There are some things we do know:

r Does it really matter if some of the 18 girls who became pregnant this past school year truly had some sort of "pact" — the term used in Time magazine that took this issue to the global media level, but a term we had never used, and one that city and school officials now dispute (see all the Times coverage of the issue at gloucestertimes.com)?

Of course not. All that matters is that several local high school girls — those who elated when their pregnancy tests came up positive, and those who were disappointed when theirs didn't — have a decidedly skewed perception of what teen motherhood entails.

r Is about whether the school clinic provides birth control? Absolutely not. The school health clinic could have handed out condoms and birth control pills like candy without notifying parents, and it wouldn't have made any difference. So the highly publicized resignations of the clinic's medical director, Dr. Brian Orr, and nurse practitioner Kim Daly now seem more like a high-profile push for a change in policy than any meaningful effort to address the problem. The matter of whether Addison Gilbert Hospital, which administers the clinic, was right to defer to school officials when it comes to dispensing contraception without parents' consent almost seems irrelevant. That policy must be decided by school officials and the community — as the hospital has suggested — but it doesn't address this past year's stunning pregnancy spike.

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