Human Exceptionalism

Thoughts on the “Teenager Pregnancy Pact”

It is tempting to put on my quavering old man voice and say, “In my day, teenagers would never get pregnant on purpose. Heck, in my day teenagers didn’t even have sex.”

Laugh if you will, but it was generally true. Most of us necked and petted almost to the point of frenzy, but we didn’t “go all the way,” and the few that did would be either from among the “hood” element or would soon become the talk of the school. Indeed, since back then a girl who “got in trouble” either got married or left school, I can recall only two pregnancies out of my class of about 500, well three, since a friend of mine got a girl from another school pregnant and married her secretly. Yes, there may have been a few secret abortions but abortion was illegal then and was generally considered to be wrong.

A primary reason for less underage sexual intercourse in that era: We were expected to refrain–indeed, that message was pounded nonstop and unequivocally into our hormone-addled brains. And being members of the exceptional species, we had the capacity to–and usually succeeded–in resisting. Indeed, every authority figure we had–from school teachers, to parents, to popular culture–supported teenage chastity. The magazines for young women, for example, told the girls how to say no, not how to please a boy the first time in bed. And we boys were told that if we got a girl with child, we would be expected to marry or or at least, get a job and support our family.

That was then (circa 1963-67), this is now. Apparently 17 teenage girls in Massachusetts got pregnant on purpose in a pregnancy pact. From the story:

The girls showed up repeatedly at the high school health clinic, asking for pregnancy tests. But their reactions to the test results were puzzling: high-fives if they were expecting, long faces if they weren’t. School officials in this hard-luck New England fishing town say an alarming 17 girls–four times the usual number–became pregnant this year. And even more disturbing: Some of the girls may have made a pact to have babies and raise them together.

People are asking why. The reporter implies it was due to this:

City and school officials in this town of about 30,000 people 30 miles north of Boston have been struggling for months to explain and deal with the pregnancies, where on average only four girls a year at the 1,200-student high school become pregnant. Just last month, two officials at the high school health center resigned to protest the local hospital’s refusal to support a proposal to distribute contraceptives to youngsters at the school without parental consent. The hospital controls the clinic’s funding.

As if it is bad to believe that medicating children without their parents’ knowledge is wrong. Besides, if the story is true, they got pregnant on purpose, not because they didn’t have knowedge about or access to birth control.

Teenagers are not adults but in some of the most important areas of their development, we treat them as if they are. And they are being hurt. Badly.