MICHELE NORRIS, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
I'm Michele Norris.
At the high school in Gloucester, Massachusetts, at least 17 teenage girls are pregnant. That more than quadruples the school's pregnancy rate over last year. But what stuns people in this largely Catholic town is that it seems that these teenagers were trying to get pregnant.
Kathleen Kingsbury is a reporter for Time magazine. She helped bring national attention to the story with her recent story that she published in Time, and she joins us now. Kathleen, what do we know about these girls? For instance, how old are they?
Ms. KATHLEEN KINGSBURY (Time Magazine): Most of the girls involved, are sophomores, in the pact. They really range between 15 and 16. Although, out of the 17 girls pregnant at school, they really range all four grades up to senior year.
NORRIS: And it's been reported that these girls actually wanted to get pregnant, that they made not necessarily individual decisions, but they decided as a group. What do you know about that?
Ms. KINGSBURY: I spoke with the school principal and he said, one thing that the school noticed immediately this past school year, was just a huge number of girls were coming to the school clinic in order to have pregnancy tests - even in the first month of school. What really concerned the school nurse were the reactions of these girls when they found out that they were pregnant. One girl, for example, yelled out: sweet. Another gave a high five. And the school started investigating, and when they got into it, the principal said that six or seven girls confessed to him that they had decided to get pregnant altogether and raise their babies together.
NORRIS: Any idea why they would make that decision?
Ms. KINGSBURY: You know, I think that that's one thing that's really baffling adults in Gloucester, right now. The school principal was very clear that these are lonely girls who don't have strong families behind them. And I just have a feeling that these girls really were not part of, you know, the cheering squad, they were more loners. As to where the idea of the pact came from, that's still unclear.
NORRIS: Have you had a chance to talk to any of these young women?
Ms. KINGSBURY: I have spoken to many of them. I've also spoken with many of their friends. None of them are really willing to be identified at this point, but listening to their friends, it's clear that these are girls who didn't have a lot of restrictions in their lives. And growing up in Gloucester has been hard in recent years. The town has faced a lot of economic hardship. It had a very, very strong fishing industry for centuries, and that fishing industry has been decimated. And so, these are girls who really didn't have a strong life plan, and they decided essentially to make their own life plan and take control of the situation. They decided, you know, if they needed an identity, to be a mother would be their identity.
NORRIS: And being a teenage mother, how would that be taking control - not to pass judgment...
Ms. KINGSBURY: Sure.
NORRIS: ...but really just to raise the curiosity here. How would that improve their situation? How would that make things better?
Ms. KINGSBURY: Well, I think that, actually, one thing that was clear is that there's a lot of - not a lot of knowledge out there in Gloucester, in terms of sex ed. Sex ed ends in freshmen year in Gloucester. And many of the young women I've spoken to who are now teen mothers said that they really didn't know about condoms, they didn't know about contraceptives. One girl I've spoke with said she and her boyfriend, they used the condom every - a few times, but they didn't really know why they were doing it. You know, sometimes they just forgot or sometimes they just didn't think it was important.
NORRIS: Now, the school - does it follow abstinence only sex education policy?
Ms. KINGSBURY: No, it doesn't. Contraceptives are something, though, that schools have struggled with in the past. The school nurse, as well as the director of the student health clinic, resigned in late May because they were advocating distributing contraceptives without parental permission. That caused a lot of fury in the city of Gloucester, which is a very, very Catholic city.
NORRIS: Now, the story on the spike in teenage pregnancies in Gloucester was focused primarily on the young girls. What about the fathers?
Ms. KINGSBURY: Well, the fathers, that's a whole another really interesting topic. One of the fathers, the school principal told me, was a 24-year-old homeless man who was living in a local shelter, that the girl had, you know, recruited to be part of this pact situation. A lot of the fathers were older and they may be possibly stay saying that's statutory rape charges. In Massachusetts, it's against the law to have sex with a girl under the age of 16 and that's one thing authorities are going to have to decide over the next few months, are whether or not to press charges.
NORRIS: Kathleen, I'm guessing that there are a lot of reporters that have descended on Gloucester to cover the story...
Ms. KINGSBURY: Yes, absolutely.
NORRIS: ...what's the community reaction?
Ms. KINGSBURY: You know, I think that right now they're just baffled by this. And now, all of this attention, you know, there is a lot of, you know, bitterness about the fact that the town - which is very, very prideful, which is, you know, a tough town but has always had a very, very strong backbone to it - I think that, you know, they're ashamed to that. This is what has brought the attention to the town.
NORRIS: Kathleen Kingsbury is a reporter for Time magazine. She's been reporting on a story on a spike in teenage pregnancies at the high school in Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Kathleen, thank you very much for speaking with us.
Ms. KINGSBURY: Thank you for having me.