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Seventeen Pregnancies in Massachusetts High School Draw National Media Attention

Gloucester, MA
 
A spike in teen pregnancies at Gloucester High School this spring has caused concern among school officials and attracted the attention of national news media. With seventeen students reported pregnant by the end of May 2008—a four-fold increase from previous years—rumors began to circulate about a possible “pregnancy pact” made by a few of the now-expecting girls.[1]
 
Gloucester High officials report that students began lining up to take pregnancy tests at the school-based health clinic in fall 2007. When the spike in pregnancies became clear in early 2008, a controversy erupted over whether to offer confidential contraception at the school clinic, particularly because the only other place where girls could acquire birth control confidentially is at a clinic almost fifteen miles away.[2] The medical director of the Massachusetts State Department of Public Health, along with officials on the clinic advisory committee, pushed to allow the school clinic to confidentially prescribe birth control to students.[3] However, they reached a roadblock when officials at Addison Gilbert Hospital in Gloucester, which manages the eight-year-old school clinic, objected to making contraception available to students on the basis of liability concerns.[4]
 
In protest to the hospital’s unyielding stance, the medical director and the chief nurse practitioner at the school clinic submitted their resignations in May. The Gloucester Superintendent of Schools aligned with the clinic’s staff, asserting that "...the position [of Addison Gilbert hospital] flies in the face of the views and experience of the medical profession. The liability issue which has been raised by the hospital does not appear to be a cause for concern elsewhere.”[5]
 
With the argument over offering birth control to students unsettled, the story burst into the national headlines in June 2008 when the principal reported in an interview that some of the girls had “made a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together.”[6] Speculation about a “pregnancy pact” engendered an instant media furor; however, other officials have disputed the principal’s claims.[7]
 
Media coverage has attributed the cause of the girls’ supposed pregnancy pact to everything from the influence of Hollywood and pregnant teen celebrities, to the economic downturn the small fishing town has experienced in recent years.[8] On the other hand, one of the seventeen pregnant girls recently said in an interview that “there was definitely no pact,” and that “there was a group of girls already pregnant that decided they were going to help each other to finish school and raise their kids together…[the number of pregnancies] was just a coincidence.”[9] The principal has since backpedaled on his claim that the young women intentionally tried to get pregnant and other school and city officials are questioning whether a “pact” existed at all.[10] 
 
The school board responded by announcing that it plans to hold meetings with public health experts on how to address the pregnancy spike. The board is also set to vote on whether to make contraception available at the school-based health center by the start of the 2008-2009 school year. SIECUS will continue to monitor the situation.
 


[1]Gail McCarthy, “GHS Clinic Chiefs Quit Over Contraception Fight,” Gloucester Times, 26 May 2008, accessed on 18 June 2008, <www.gloucestertimes.com/>.
[2] Tania deLuzuriaga, “Gloucester Stymied by Rise in Teen Pregnancy,” Boston Globe, 6 June 2008, accessed 18 June 2008, <www.boston.com/news/>.
[3] Kathy McCabe, “17 Gloucester High Students are Said to be Pregnant,” Boston Globe, 29 May 2008, accessed on 18 June 2008, <www.boston.com/news/>.
[4] McCarthy.
[5] Ibid.
[6] “So-called Pregnancy Pact in Mass. Town Questioned,” New York Times, 24 June 2008, accessed on 24 June 2008, <www.nytimes.com/>.
[7] Jessica Fargen, “Officials: Principal has ‘Foggy’ Memory of Pregnancy Pact Story,” Boston Herald, 23 June 2008, accessed 24 June 2008, <www.bostonherald.com/>.
[8] Kathleen Kingsbury, “Pregnancy Boom at Gloucester High,” Time, 18 June 2008, accessed 26 June 2008, <www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1815845,00.html>.
[9] “17 Pregnancies a ‘Coincidence,’ Says Teen,” ABC News: Good Morning America, 24 June 2008, accessed on 24 June 2008, <http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/story?id=5232920&page=1>.
[10] Patrick Anderson, “Officials: 'We can't confirm existence of pregnancy pact'” Gloucester Times, 24 June 2008, accessed 26 June 2008, <www.gloucestertimes.com/>.
 

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