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NYC teen pregnancy prevention campaign comes under fire

By Chris Boyette, CNN
March 8, 2013 -- Updated 0142 GMT (0942 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ad: "Honestly, mom ... chances are he won't stay with you. What happens to me?"
  • "Dad, you'll be paying to support me for the next 20 years," says one of the posters
  • Planned Parenthood of NYC says the campaign creates stigma
  • Nearly half of mothers ages 15-19 live in poverty, one group says

New York (CNN) -- Planned Parenthood of New York City blasted the city's new Teen Pregnancy Prevention Campaign on Thursday, saying it won't deter teen pregnancy and inappropriately shames and stigmatizes its target audience.

The campaign "creates stigma, hostility and negative public opinions about teen pregnancy and parenthood rather than offering alternative aspirations for young people," said Haydee Morales, the organization's vice president of education and training. "The city's money would be better spent helping teens access health care, birth control and high-quality sexual and reproductive health education, not on an ad campaign intended to create shock value."

The New York City Human Resources Administration/Department of Social Services announced the $400,000 initiative, which features pictures of babies delivering messages to their hypothetical parents such as "Honestly, mom... chances are he won't stay with you. What happens to me?" The small print adds that 90% of teen parents don't marry each other.

"Dad, you'll be paying to support me for the next 20 years," says another of the ads, which adds in smaller print that "NY State law requires a parent to pay child support until a child is 21."

"Got a good job? I cost thousands of dollars each year," says another, which adds that teen parents should expect to spend more than $10,000 a year to raise their child.

"Teens giving birth before they are ready to provide emotional and financial support is not a good way to raise children," said Administration Commissioner Robert Doar. "We cannot dictate how people live their lives, and sometimes even the best plans don't work out, but we must encourage responsibility and send the right message, especially to young people."

Planned Parenthood, an advocacy group and provider of reproductive health services and education, said Wednesday in a statement that the ads propagate stereotypes and fail to address the societal problems that lead to teen pregnancies.

A city spokeswoman defended the ads, calling them but one part of a larger initiative that will include an interactive texting and social media campaign and a YouTube video public service announcement.

"This campaign is part of the city's comprehensive teen pregnancy prevention program, which includes sex education, increased access to birth control and partnerships with community-based organizations," said Samantha Levine, deputy press secretary for Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The city runs a school-based education program in which teen mothers and fathers discuss with peers the challenges of raising a child. A state-run family planning benefit program covers reproductive and sexual health care, including contraceptives, to low-income teens and adults.

And a citywide relationship abuse prevention program lays out the consequences of teen pregnancy and how to avoid peer pressure and coercion.

Since 2011, the city has mandated comprehensive sex education in public schools.

The city's pregnancy rate for females has dropped by 27% over the past decade, but it is still higher than the national average, according to the mayor's office, which launched the campaign on Monday.

"Daughters of teen parents are more likely to become teen mothers themselves, while sons are more likely to go to prison," it said in a statement. "On the other hand, parents who finish high school, find full- time work and get married before having children have a 98% chance of not living in poverty."

Planned Parenthood said that it supports the initiatives and recognizes the importance of awareness and education, but added that the rate of teen pregnancies is affected by economic and societal factors such as poverty, violence, limited access to health care, as well as gender, racial and ethnic inequalities.

"Teenage parenthood is simply not the disastrous and life-compromising event these ads portray," it said. "It's time we focus on the root causes rather than point fingers at teen parents and their children."

Last year, Bloomberg pledged a $250,000 matching gift to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America after the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation cut off grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings. The foundation later reversed its decision.

According to data compiled by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy in its 2012 publication, "Why It Matters: Teen Childbearing, Education, and Economic Wellbeing," roughly 48% of mothers ages 15 to 19 lived below the poverty line.

As their children grow up, their likelihood of living in poverty increases according to Jessica Sheets Pika, a spokeswoman for the organization.

Some 41% of women who gave birth before 20 were living in poverty within the first year of their child's birth, while the chances of living in poverty rose to 50% when their child reached 3, Pika said.

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