U.S. News

Mayor in Massachusetts city denies pregnancy "pact"

BOSTON (Reuters) - The mayor of a Massachusetts city that drew attention for a spike in teenage pregnancies denied on Monday a media report that a group of girls entered a pact to become pregnant.

Teen girls are seen in a file photo. REUTERS/Jessica Rinaldi

“I am not able to confirm the existence of a pact,” Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirk told reporters after meeting with local school and health officials to discuss a June 18 Time magazine report about teenagers who entered a pact to get pregnant and raise babies together.

“Any planned blood-oath bond to become pregnant, there is absolutely no evidence of,” she added, blaming a rise in pregnancies on a lack of health education funding and the media’s “glamorization of pregnancy.”

At least 17 high-school girls, none older than 16, are expecting babies in the seaport 30 miles north of Boston. The 1,200-student high school has four times as many teenage girls expecting babies than last year.

Gloucester Public Schools Superintendent Christopher Farmer told the news conference there was a “distinct possibility” some of the pregnant high-school girls decided to “come together for mutual support” after becoming pregnant.

It was also clear some of the girls were not trying very hard not to become pregnant, he said. Some gave high-fives and planned baby showers, he added. Others appeared upset if their pregnancy tests at the high school health clinic produced negative results.

But Time magazine did not distinguish between “a pact to become pregnant or a pact because we are pregnant,” he said.

Kirk declined to comment on specific cases, including the ages of the fathers. Local officials have said at least some of the men were in their mid-20s, including one man who appeared to be homeless. Others were boys in the school.

Under Massachusetts law, it is a crime to have sex with anyone under the age of 16.

Time stood behind its story, which quoted Gloucester High School Principal Joseph Sullivan as saying about half of those who became pregnant had entered a pact to get pregnant over the school year and raise their babies together.

The magazine published a follow-up story on Monday that included more quotes from Sullivan on evidence of a pact.

“That bump was because of seven or eight sophomore girls ... they made a pact to get pregnant and raise their babies together,” Sullivan said in Monday’s Time story.

Sue Todd, chief executive of Pathways for Children, whose organization runs the school’s on-site day-care center, said its social workers had heard of the girls’ plan to get pregnant as early as last fall, according to Time’s story on Monday.

Sullivan has not commented publicly since the controversy erupted in the city of 30,000 people last week. He did not attend the meeting on Monday or appear at the news conference.

Kirk said Sullivan was “foggy in his memory” about his source for a pact when she spoke with him. “When pressed, his memory failed,” she said.

U.S. teen pregnancies are showing signs of rising after declining from 1991 to 2005. Birthrates for teenagers aged 15 to 17 rose by 3 percent in 2006, the first increase since 1991, according to preliminary data released in December by the National Center for Health Statistics.

Editing by Peter Cooney