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Planned Parenthood Upset with NYC for Stigmatizing Teen Pregnancy

New York City is taking a simple, even old-fashioned approach to reducing teen pregnancy: reminding teenagers in no uncertain terms that having a baby or getting someone pregnant will, well, ruin their lives. The $400,000 campaign, which includes posters in subways and bus shelters, interactive texting and video interviews with teen parents, has garnered sharp criticism from Planned Parenthood. The NYTimes reports:

Planned Parenthood issued a statement denouncing the poster campaign, saying that it ignored the racial, economic and social factors that contribute to teenage pregnancy and instead stigmatized teenage parents and their children.

The mayor’s office responded, saying that it was “past time” to be “value neutral” about teenage pregnancy and that it was important to “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 posters feature distraught toddlers issuing strong warnings to their would-be parents: “Honestly Mom…chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?” and “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen.” Some target teen boys, reminding them that the law requires fathers to pay child support for a full 21 years. The texting games are bizarrely reminiscent of a Choose Your Own Adventure book, where the mother almost always ends up abandoned, the father imprisoned, and both of them impoverished.

The message is undoubtedly strong, but perhaps it needs to be. According to the CDC, only 50 percent of teen mothers receive a high school diploma. And their children are more likely to drop out of school, experience health problems, be incarcerated, and face unemployment. The consequences extend to U.S. taxpayers, who paid $11 billion in health care, foster care, and other such costs in 2008. As one poster reminds us: “If you finish high school, get a job and get married before having children, you have a 98% chance of not being in poverty.”

Those are the facts, but the sensitive folks at Planned Parenthood think we shouldn’t offend girls by reminding them that single motherhood is no picnic, or make them worry about the terrible things likely to happen to single poor girls who get pregnant.

Sometimes stigma works. It might upset some people, but it’s supposed to.

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