Editor’s note: Through the end of the year, the Kokomo Tribune is republishing a selection of columns written by Primus Mootry, the retired schoolteacher and community advocate who died in a March 31 fire at his Anderson home. This column originally ran July 1, 2008.

Less than one hour from the hustle and bustle of Boston sits the sleepy, historic port city called Gloucester. With its scenic shores and breathtaking harbors, it has been a favorite American destination since 1623.

Hard times, however, have fallen on this quaint sea port city of 30,000 largely Roman Catholic Italian and Portuguese residents. Gloucester, by the way, is the site of the popular movie, “The Perfect Storm.”

The city’s hard times are mostly due to its inability to keep pace with overseas competitors in a once-booming seafood export-based economy. The blue- and white-collar town’s economic downturn has affected teens, many of whom apparently see their idyllic way of life slipping away.

That, some say, is one of the reasons 17 Gloucester high schoolers — none older than 16 — allegedly created a pact to get pregnant and help each other raise their offspring.

Although there is some disagreement over whether such a pact ever existed, the fact remains that 17 Gloucester High girls became pregnant in one year. In the previous year, only four pregnancies were reported.

The story has made national headlines and, as is to be expected, school officials, mental health care professionals, politicians and the general public are all weighing in with various opinions as to why these young girls would opt for the stresses of single parenthood over the freedom of just being a kid.

According to one report, Sarah Brown, chief executive of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Unplanned Pregnancy, “suggested some of the blame lies with the country’s Hollywood-obsessed culture in which stories about pregnant celebrities abound.”

In the same news report, Patricia Quinn, executive director of Massachusetts’ Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, said, “if you’re a young person who really is struggling to find an identity for herself, absent the support and the guidance, it can become almost a default option for some to become a mom.”

It is interesting to note that the girls involved apparently didn’t care too much about whom to choose as the father of their child.

It is reported that one girl, for example, gave herself to a complete stranger, who happened to be a 24-year-old homeless man.

Other girls opted to have their children fathered by older males with whom they had little or no meaningful relationship. In short, they were determined, by default or by design, to become moms.

To the point, Gloucester High students and school officials reported that, when girls were given pregnancy tests at the school, they appeared to be disappointed if the test came back negative.

If this seems odd, some of it is perhaps due to the religious and ethnic mix of the town’s residents.

For example, Roman Catholics strongly discourage any contraceptive means other than abstinence. Their faith also prohibits abortion. Under these circumstances, if a young girl gets pregnant, family and community values encourage carrying the unborn child until birth.

In the meantime, across the country, after nearly 15 years of declining births among teenage girls, their pregnancy rates are up by 3% — and climbing. In many cases, the fathers are grown men, not school boys.

Also, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, many girls are having unprotected sex and, in so doing, exposing themselves to the wide variety of dangerous, even deadly, sexually transmitted diseases we hear so much about these days.

Each year, nearly a million teenage girls become pregnant.

In the name of privacy and children’s rights, federal and state laws prohibit the extent to which school districts can intervene, advise or take other aggressive steps to deal with the problem. Under these and other circumstances, teen pregnancy and the social and economic problems associated with it are likely to continue to increase.

Like the movie, “The Perfect Storm,” which was based on an unusual convergence of weather patterns in the waters near Gloucester and the tragic sinking of a fishing boat, the alleged pact among girls there signals conditions for a perfect storm of new teen pregnancies in communities throughout the country.

Obviously, the problem is both longstanding and complex. There are no easy solutions.

The best hope for young girls who may be sexually active is for communities to come together to help save them from the stormy seas of premature motherhood, potential disease and the prospect of giving life to a baby who is at risk the day he or she is born

Have a nice day!

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