The February 16 Journal Sentinel story “United Way’s provocative teen pregnancy campaign designed to get results” inspired me (again) to share my teen pregnancy story. When I was seventeen years old and in an abusive situation, I found out I was pregnant. During the birthing experience, I thought that I was giving life to the child who would ruin mine. Before my pregnancy, I often saw how organizations depicted babies as a negative outcome of teen sex or that “it” would ruin or control my life.
Despite being raised by a teenage mother myself (along with more than 2 million teens across the country today), I had internalized those messages and believed my baby would serve as a form of punishment.
Negative messages like these are perpetuated by organizations, like the United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County, who use resources to publicly shame teen parents rather than publicly provide teenagers with information on how to prevent an unintended pregnancy. The concept of using teen parents’ lives as a scare tactic is not innovative, educational or informative. Furthermore, United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County’s Vice President of Community Impact, Nicole Agresano’s comparison of teen pregnancy to obesity and smoking is incredibly offensive and dehumanizes the children of teen parents as objects of public health to be rid of, treating teen parents themselves as simple-minded, manipulated toys.
And even if your response is that you have EBIs (do you?) proving that stigmatizing teen parents is an effective method of birth control (which it is not), it is still morally and ethically wrong in every way.
We know that teen pregnancy rates are down across the entire country, so it would be inaccurate for United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County to call this campaign necessary. Organizations should be educating, empowering, and supporting teens, regardless of parenting status, not shaming them for their sexual or reproductive choices.