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Pregnant and Parenting Teens: Propping vs. Promoting

Two weeks ago there was a headline about a North Carolina teen who was barred from having a picture with her one-year-old son in her high-school yearbook. The students had been encouraged to bring personal items to pose with, and Caitlin Tiller felt that her son was her greatest gift.

Teachers felt the picture would “send the wrong message” to other students. But Caitlin’s message was a positive one: She felt her son had inspired her to graduate early and continue on to college. She told the local news station, “He helped me get to where I am today. I wouldn’t be the person I am today without him.”

Now we have a story out of Michigan that two teens are being told they need to retake their yearbook pictures to hide their baby bumps. Apparently the district superintendent feels it is necessary because of the state’s abstinence-based approach to sex education.

One of the girls made the point, “What’s the difference of letting me walk for graduation, letting me walk around the school? It’s the same thing.”

This all reminds me of when I was attending a Catholic all-girls high school in the 1980s and pregnant girls transferred into our school because they were kicked out of others. I remember thinking that those other Catholic institutions might actually be encouraging their students to secretly get abortions so they woudn’t have to drop out. Not very pro-life.

But of course, it is a fine line to walk: Can we prop up those who have accepted the responsibility of their actions — and are doing the best they can — without simultaneously promoting teen pregnancy?

The good news is that our nation’s efforts are working. Teen pregnancies and births are both down more than 40 percent since their peak in the early ’90s. So I don’t see how a few pictures will have that much of an effect.

As a conservative, I definitely prefer abstinence-based sex ed. And as a feminist in the traditional sense, I see nothing wrong with showing our support for those young women who are continuing to pursue their education. We can send the message that pregnancy and parenting — while not the best paths to take as a teen, and ones that are best avoided until marriage — are not a dead end. It will be a tougher journey, but we will be there to help them make their way.


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