Perhaps you watched this fictional account of a pregnancy pact that was entered into by several teenagers in 2008 in Gloucester High School and adapted for an episode on the now defunct Law and Order, SVU. The episode was based on the “true life” story about seventeen (or eighteen) 15 and 16-year-old girls who became pregnant in Gloucester HS around the same time, with approximately half of these girls having entered into a pregnancy pact. The pregnancy rate was four times the annual average number in the small town.
Beginning of the Pact
In October, teachers at the high school noticed that several girls began visiting the school health clinic to request pregnancy tests. By May, the health clinic reported that an unusually high number of girls were asking for pregnancy tests. Down at the local CVS, they’re 9 bucks apiece. Rumour has it that some girls were distraught when pregnancy tests revealed they weren’t pregnant. Girls who were pregnant supposedly shared “high fives”, vowing to raise their children together, as a commune. On Law and Order, one of the girls claimed, “I’ll be a hot milf.”
There is speculation already that the girls were influenced by the glamorization of teen pregnancy among celebrities such as Jamie Lynn Spears, Angelina Jolie, Ashlee Simpson, Jessica Alba and Gwyneth Paltrow. Is it simply a coincidence that Jamie Lynn Spears, the 17-year-old actor and sister of Britney, had her baby on Thursday, one day after Time magazine reported about the pregnancy boom in Massachusetts? There is also concern that the girls made the pact in a bid for security — a short-term effort to be cared for and supported as an alternative to the bleak future prospects of the small fishing town. One of their classmates said, these young women chose pregnancy because “no one’s offered them a better option.”
National research might be applicable in this case if these girls came from homes where there was no discussion about sexuality. Perhaps some of these girls came from homes with little supervision and a permissive atmosphere, where they learned that teen sex wasn’t such a big deal, especially if they observed casual sex among their respective parents and guardians. Some may hail from homes that were too strict, where they felt disconnected from their own family and sought to create their own. They were thinking like early adolescents: concentrating on what would be fun about new babies, baby showers, extra attention, and someone who would love them unconditionally. Sadly, the need for love may have been their most immediate and urgent need. Some of the girls naively told themselves, “that’s not going to happen to me!”
Perhaps no one ever told them that the possibilities for their longer-term futures, including love, family, education and prosperity, are much greater if they delayed motherhood until they reached their twenties or later. In fact, in 2008, several of the teen moms were interviewed about the so-called pact. 17-year old teen mom Lindsey Oliver told CBN News: “There was definitely no pact. There was a group of girls who decided that were already pregnant before they decided this. They were going to help each other with their kids, so they could finish school and raise their kids together. You know, to do the right thing was their decision, not let’s get pregnant like as a group.”
The school superintendent claimed “They are young white women. We understand that some of them were together talking about being pregnant and that being a positive thing for them.” One of the fathers was a 24-year-old homeless man, Naturally a debate began about the sex education program in the school. In May, Brian Orr, the medical director, and Nurse Daly at the school clinic resigned when the local hospital revoked their funds to provide contraceptives to pupils without parental consent. Joseph Sullivan, the school principal, called the very idea of a pact “hogwash” but quit his position after feeling betrayed by the town’s mayor, who declared the pact was a possibility. Orr and Daly had been advocating for school-sponsored birth control for years, and in their minds, Sullivan’s rejection of a pact negated the need for condoms. In other words, as far as Sullivan was concerned, if the girls were trying to get pregnant, condoms would be useless. They were bad apples. It would have happened anyways.
One pregnant teenager, Kyla Brown, has received mixed reactions from peers; some call her a slut; a nasty clique of girls insisted she was faking her pregnancy just for attention; others ask if she is keeping it. For the most part Brown simply shrugged it off. However open glares and frozen silences surrounded her whenever she went out in public.
Reproductive Health Trends
Experts in teenage sexuality were baffled by the events in Gloucester. “The pact is quite shocking. This is the first time I’ve heard of anything like it,” said David Landry of the Guttmacher Institute, which promotes reproductive health. Landry said that national statistics showing improvements in reproductive health – particularly the use of condoms – achieved through had stagnated since around 2003. Though it is impossible to say why the tailing off has happened, he pointed to the Bush administration’s $1bn programme to promote abstinence rather than to offer contraception. Ah, George W. Your infinite wisdom has left a legacy among generations of the misinformed.
The girls’ story became famous worldwide. Two movies entitled The Pregnancy Pact and 17 Girls were inspired by the bizarre Massachusetts incident. The Gloucester 18 is a documentary about the teen pregnancies. When the movie aired in 2010 former Gloucester students and staff members stated there was never a pact and that the movie was inaccurate and blown out of proportion. Hollywood tends to do that of course, but I remain skeptical that there was “never a pact.” How could so many girls in one high school get pregnant at the same time? A 2010 novel named Not My Daughter, written by Barbara Delinsky portrays 3 teenaged girls who have made a pregnancy pact.
Some of the girls had more children soon after the scandal. Some were able to stay in school and place their infants into the school’s daycare centre. Long-term information about the girls’ situations is available in the follow-up to The Gloucester 18 documentary.