Planned Parenthood Blasts Bloomberg’s Teen Pregnancy Campaign

Alicia Powe

3/8/2013 11:18:00 AM - Alicia Powe

Mayor Bloomberg launched an ad campaign Monday targeting teen pregnancy which has escalated into a sharp exchange between the mayor’s office and Planned Parenthood.

The $400,000 initiative features posters of crying toddlers that bear the tagline, “Think being a teen parent won’t cost you?”, “ I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen,” and “honest mom… chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?”

"Dad, you'll be paying to support me for the next 20 years," says another ad. In small print the ads read, "NY State law requires a parent to pay child support until a child is 21."

The posters, advertised around New York City’s subways, bus shelters and in neighborhoods with high rates of teen pregnancy, include a number to text to receive facts about teenage pregnancy and to play a game about a pregnant teenager. The game, via text messages, chronicles a series of challenges facing Anaya and her boyfriend Louis and asks the person playing the game what they should do, which the player indicates by texting a response.

“My BFF called me a ‘fat loser’ at prom,” Anaya says in a typical exchange. (The city has since changed “fat loser” to simply “loser.”) In other examples, Anaya’s father calls her “stupid,’” and her best friend stops talking to her.

Planned Parenthood, usually an ally of the Bloomberg administration on reproductive health matters, blasted the city's new Teen Pregnancy Prevention Campaign, arguing that the campaign reinforces negative stereotypes about teenage mothers, ignores the racial, economic and social factors that contribute to teenage pregnancy and shames the targeted audience.

Haydee Morales, vice president for education and training at Planned Parenthood of New York City, told the New York Times that the organization was “shocked and taken aback” by the tone of the new campaign and “hurting and shaming communities is not what’s going to bring teen pregnancy rates down.” Planned Parenthood issued a statement Wednesday denouncing Bloomberg’s tactics.

A spokeswoman for the Bloomberg administration responded, telling the New York Times:

It is well past time when anyone can afford to be value neutral when it comes to teen pregnancy ... This city has been a national leader in allocating resources to make birth control available and provide sex education to young people, but at the same time we must send a strong message that teen pregnancy has consequences — and those consequences are extremely negative, life-altering and most often disproportionately borne by young women.

The city spent about two years producing the campaign, which included hiring a marketing firm to conduct focus groups with teenagers, as well as with the parents of teenagers, and with parents who had children when they were teenagers.

The city’s teenage pregnancy rate has declined by 27 percent in the past decade, roughly equaling the national rate of decline. Nearly 9 out of 10 teenage pregnancies in the city are unplanned, according to the Bloomberg administration.

The Bloomberg administration has aggressively sought to reduce teenage pregnancy by mandating sex education in public schools and by empowering high school nurses to provide birth control, including the morning-after pill.