Teen pregnancy has always been a controversial matter, surrounded by morally subjective conversations involving sex education, contraception, and lingering questions of responsibility. However, in June of 2008, when 18 Massachusetts teens purposefully got pregnant in a supposed "pact," the sleepy fishing town of Gloucester, MA, absolutely exploded in a moral panic.
The so-called high school pregnancy pact became a national scandal, after a Time magazine piece revealed that the high school's principal had reported at least eight students had made a pact to get pregnant and raise their children together, with at least one student pursuing a 24-year-old homeless man to father her child.
In the tight-knit Irish-Catholic community, the blame-game began. Sex education was suggestively lacking, yet so were prospective futures for the oft-bored youth. Parents blamed the media while school health officials blamed the hospital for lack of resources. Round and round the rumors went, but nothing changed the fact that the teen pregnancies at Gloucester High School had quadrupled since the previous year. Clearly something was wrong in the quiet little fishing village.
The Principal Revealed There Was A Pregnancy Pact Between Students
It was a headline that grabbed the nation's attention in early June of 2008: A group of teenage girls, none older than 16, making a pact to get pregnant together. The story quickly gained international attention, with news outlets sending in correspondents from places as distant as Brazil and Japan.
It all started when Gloucester High School's Principal at the time, Dr. Joseph Sullivan, told reporters from Time magazine that at least eight of the school's 18 soon-to-be pregnant students had formed a pact together. Sullivan claimed that the students were mostly sophomores when the pact was first formed, and that a majority were pregnant by their junior year.
However, despite the media's sensationalized reaction, the town of Gloucester, including its mayor and school superintendent, wasn't as quick to believe Sullivan's story, especially because he admitted to being "foggy in his memory" as to how he had learned of the pact.
This didn't stop the rumors from building, nor quell the flood of opinions and accusations that ensued in the Massachusetts fishing town of around 30,000 people.
School Officials Reported Students "Celebrating" Positive Pregnancy Tests
Arguably, it was the school health officials that first became aware of Gloucester's abrupt increase in teen pregnancies. At the school of approximately 1,200 students, it was reported that by early October of 2007, several girls had requested pregnancy tests from the school health clinic.
By March, "several" had become 10 students, which was already more than triple the amount of students that had become pregnant in the previous school year. In interviews with Time and other news outlets, both the school principal and superintendent reported that girls reacted to negative test results with sadness, and positive tests were met with high fives and talk of celebration for the babies to be.
Nurse Daly, Gloucester's school nurse, conceded that the amount of girls requesting tests, and coming back weekly for new results, was a shocking new phenomena. She admitted that girls would be giddy over positive results, and cry over negatives. By May of 2008, Daly had administered some 150 pregnancy tests, and confirmed 17 pregnancies (which would later tick up to 18 before the year's end.)
One Girl Was Reportedly Pursuing A Homeless Man To Father Her Child
In his outrageous account to Time's reporters, Gloucester High Principal, Dr. Joseph Sullivan also claimed that one of the teen pregnancy pact's members had been so desperate as to pursue a 24-year-old homeless man to father her child.
However, like the rest of Sullivan's story, there is a large amount of speculation regarding this claim. Not only was this particular girl never identified, it was not even made clear by Farmer whether she had actually succeeded in being impregnated by this man, or if she was simply pursuing him without success.
News sources vary, with some claiming at least one father was a 24-year old homeless man, and others saying the girl attempted to bear his child in order to "fit in," with the other pregnancy pact girls.
Gloucester High School's Teen Pregnancies Quadrupled Within One Year
Part of what dumbfounded not only Gloucester, but the world, was the unbelievable spike in cases of teen pregnancy that had seemed to happen overnight, or at least within just one school year.
In the 2006-2007 school year, Gloucester High School's Nurse Kim Daly had confirmed four teen pregnancies; she had confirmed that many by October of the 2007-2008 school year, with no teen mother over the age of 16, and many of whom were only 15. By the end of that school year, there would be a total of 18 pregnancies at Gloucester High School.
Statistics at the time had showed a steady decline in teen birth rates between 1991 and 2005. However, by 2006, for girls 15 to 17, that had risen by 3%. At the time of the 2008 case it was too soon to say for sure if Gloucester was somehow part of a growing trend, or simply its own anomaly.