New York City's Mayor Michael Bloomberg has become an interesting urban social engineer. In 2012 alone, he pumped nearly 2.5 million dollars of his own money to help legalize same-sex marriage in the state of Maryland. Needless to say, he has become a formidable foe to traditional family values.
More recently he proposed an ill-conceived soda ban. I criticized his maniacal attempt to force New Yorkers to eat right a few weeks ago. Although his goal for better health among the urban poor is a pandemic issue in every US City; his solutions will hurt minority businesses, increase government expenditures, along with many other intrusions into personal freedoms. Surprisingly, in this article, I am highlighting one of Bloomberg’s better, less invasive policy concepts. Let me explain!
Last month, thousands of posters were put up around New York City. They carried images of crying toddlers with words for teen mothers, including messages like: Because you had me as a teen, I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school. Mom, chances are, he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?
These statements reflect the ugly realities of unwed teenage birth. Children raised by a teenage parent are twice as likely to drop out of high school and have multiple issues from low achievement to criminal behavior. Mayor Bloomberg’s goal with this campaign was obviously to raise awareness of the challenges of teen parenthood. Who could possibly object to that?
Only groups that profit from the tragedy of illegitimate pregnancy would oppose such a thing. Surprise, Surprise, Surprise! Planned Parenthood of New York (PPNYC) immediately issued a press release condemning the billboards, stating, “Planned Parenthood of New York City (PPNYC) denounced a new teen pregnancy prevention ad campaign unveiled this week by the New York City Human Resources Administration for shaming existing and to-be teen parents and their children.” Apparently, Planned Parenthood finds the very thought of young people feeling ashamed because of bad decisions repugnant. My colleagues and I wish that these “shamed feelings” were the biggest consequences of their out of wedlock, premature pre-mature entrance into parenthood. They are not.
What did Planned Parenthood propose as a solution instead? A self serving recommendation that the City’s money would be better spent helping teens the same way PPNYC has been doing for at least fifty years. They proposed giving access to health care, birth control, and high-quality sexual and reproductive health education.
On the other hand, abstinence advocates have been ridiculed for teaching children to abstain from sex as the only sure way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Both approaches are guided by the assumption that teenagers want to avoid risky behavior. Both approaches have inherent weaknesses as seen by CDC stats which report unintended pregnancy rates for women of all ages are around 50%. Importantly, over half of those unintended pregnancies occur in women who are using contraception.
Further, advocates for both approaches tend to overlook the very important fact that many teenagers become pregnant on purpose. Dr. Andrea Parrot, a women's health and human sexuality expert at Cornell University, explains: "..., because of girls who see no life goals other than being a mother as realistically within their reach." Other reasons teen moms give for intentional pregnancy include: wanting to have someone to love, wanting someone to love them, and wanting to force boyfriends into staying with them. Some girls just want the attention associated with having a baby; and most frustrating of all, some girls get pregnant because they do not see any reason to be careful.
How do we persuade someone who has no hope for the future to build a better life? This question goes to the very heart of sex education, whether it is centered on abstinence or contraception. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, just 6.4% of all abortions are performed on girls under the age of eighteen. We must persuade these kids to guard against teenage pregnancy. If more girls were reminded of the day to day challenges of raising a child, they would think twice about their decisions. And that is why Mayor Bloomberg‚ campaign is actually a pretty good idea.
We must work at creating a youth culture that honors marriage and parenting - in the right order. Why should we seek to change the current attitude or speak-out about the sequencing of love, marriage and babies. Two historic true cases will explain our need. First, in 2008 at Gloucester High School in Massachusetts, seventeen girls became pregnant as part of a pregnancy pact. All the girls were age sixteen or younger. Secondly, this year six Maryland high school freshmen made the local news when authorities learned they had all made a pact to get pregnant.
In both cases the girls wanted to have their babies together. They wanted to give and receive unconditional love. They wanted a safe place to grow up with their own families. People of good will must help them make better choices. Girls need to both give and receive love in an atmosphere with proper boundaries. This is essentially Bloomberg's message; and this time, Mayor Bloomberg is right!