SWG: 271: Reproductive Justice
20 February 2015
Anti-Teen Pregnancy Ads: Motherhood, Prejudice, and the Social Problem
Anti-teen pregnancy ads are rampant in American mass-culture, intwining societal stereotypes of women, prejudice against mothers, and general misogyny. This is especially true in an anti-teen pregnancy campaign that ran in New York City in 2013 called “Think Being A
Teen Parent Won’t Cost You?”, produced by New York City’s Human Resource Administration
(HRA). This ad campaign is problematic because it ignores the bigger issues at hand: institutional structures that perpetuate teenage pregnancy (patriarchy, systemic racism and abuse, welfare, educational, judicial systems, etc.), mass culture’s portrayal of teenage pregnancy and motherhood, and finally, the failure to recognize the consistent, historic, and present progress made by reproductive justice activists and associated organizations.
The week of March 6, 2013, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, announced the launch of this ad campaign “aimed at making adolescents understand what it calls the ‘real cost of teen pregnancy’” (King). These ads are running throughout Manhattans subways, buses, and social media arenas, featuring children in “varies states of distress accompanied by text that explains how hard their lives will be because of their parents’ ages” (King). One image (Figure
1) shows a black child with a message beside her stating, “Honestly mom... chances are he won’t stay with you. What happens to me?” In an another image (Figure 2), a young boy is crying with the lines, “I’m twice as likely not to graduate high school because you had me as a teen” written
2 by his side (NYC HRA). When looking at these images a series of questions arise: what message does this send to teenage mothers and their children? Why are they framing teenage pregnancy as an individual problem rather than a structural/institutional one, and what does this ultimately say about motherhood?
Firstly, the messages that are brought forth completely demonize and stigmatize teen motherhood. They assume that all teenage mothers are irresponsible, ignorant, and malicious beings. This problem was emphasized by The New York Coalition for Reproductive Justice’s
(NYC4RJ) “NO STIGMA! NO SHAME!” campaign’s letter addressed to the community of New
York City: “[this ad campaign] shames teen parents, especially teen parents of color, and uses images of their children to blame them for conditions that are society’s responsibility to address” (NYC4RJ). For instance, how would it feel to see these ads as an already teenage mother or, worse, as a child of a teenage mother?
Further, this ad campaign frames teenage motherhood as just poor decision making and, thus, a choice. The ads put blame on teenage mothers rather than taking responsibility for institutional, structural, and societal issues that affect the issue at hand. Thus, they fail to recognize that teen pregnancy is a much greater and more complicated issue. This was underscored in Planned Parenthood’s statement against the campaign: “it ignore[s] the racial, economic and social factors that contribute to teenage pregnancy and instead stigmatize[s]teenage parents and their children” (The New York Times).
Framing teenage pregnancy, or simply motherhood, as just bad decision making is a common attitude within the United States. It is a standpoint Rickie Solinger affirmed in her book, Pregnancy and Power, “the United States... [has] come to believe that pregnancy and
3 motherhood are about a choice... they [don’t] seem to be talking about women as individual persons or as citizens with personal needs and rights and dignity” (Solinger 4, 5). Thus, the messages that are produced by this campaign completely denounce teenage mothers’ social and cultural agency by framing it as a decision, a choice, and, overall, lacking the ability to understand the consequences that occur when being a teen