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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Now, a twist in the story of a pregnancy pact among more than a dozen young girls in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The city's mayor says there may be no pact at all. As many as 18 high school students are pregnant - and that's four times the normal teen pregnancy rate there, that we know. But as NPR's Tovia Smith reports, the story gets murky from there.

TOVIA SMITH: Gloucester has been talking about what they're calling the spike since the teen pregnancy rate first shot up last fall. Last week, Time magazine reported a group of girls, mostly 15 and 16 years old, had all planned their pregnancies together. But in a bizarre press conference, the mayor of this small seacoast community, Carolyn Kirk, suggested to dozens of national and local reporters that it may have never happened.

Mayor CAROLYN KIRK (Gloucester, Massachusetts): Any planned, blood-oath bond to become pregnant - there is absolutely no evidence of...

SMITH: Gloucester's high school principal, who first told Time magazine about the pact, has not talked to reporters since and he was conspicuously absent from the press conference. The mayor today said she was uncomfortable with the idea of having him there.

Mayor KIRK: We pressed him for specifics about who told him, when was he told, his memory failed. He was foggy in his memory of how he heard about the information.

SMITH: The Time magazine reporter tells NPR she is standing by her story and quotes friends of the girls alleged to have signed the pact confirming the story, but she does not quote any of the pregnant girls directly. Town officials say they have not spoken to the girls directly and don't intend to.

But Superintendent Christopher Farmer says, from what he's gathered, the so-called pact may have been nothing more than a post-pregnancy agreement to stick together and help each other raise their babies.

Mr. CHRISTOPHER FARMER (Superintendent, Gloucester Public School System): I believe the issue of a pact has been greatly overstated, and I'm not sure what conclusions we would reach if we knew there was or there wasn't a pact.

SMITH: Several community residents who came to the press conference agree that all the brouhaha about the alleged pact is beside the point.

Ms. MICHELE AMENO (Resident, Gloucester, Massachusetts): Whether there was a pact or not, there are 17, 18 girls that are pregnant. They're very, very young girls.

SMITH: Gloucester resident Michelle Ameno left the press conference frustrated. She says Gloucester's not doing enough to educate young girls, sex ed now stops in ninth grade because of budget cuts in this former fishing town that has fallen on hard economic times.

Paulette Dione, a grandmother of a high school student, says town officials need to get their head out of the sand.

Ms. PAULETTE DIONE (Resident, Gloucester): I think they're so worried about the image that they're trying to cover up, and they're just trying to get it out of the way.

SMITH: Dione says it is significant if 14 and 15-year-old girls are deliberately making plans to get pregnant.

Ms. DIONE: I think that's pretty scary. And if they think that's their way out and they're not worried about the expense of it, now, they're just going to be a loss to their parents. So their babies are having babies and they just don't know what they've gotten themselves into.

SMITH: School officials say they're calling in experts to help them and will decide by fall whether to start offering birth control through the high school health center. But, as many residents are quick to point out, offering birth control would not have stopped these girls if they were, as has been reported, trying to get pregnant.

Tovia Smith, NPR News.

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