Aside from the ironic fact that teens who receive abstinence-only education are actually more likely to become pregnant than the students who receive accurate sexual health information about prevention methods, the situation in Michigan also illustrates the pervasive negativity that Americans associate with teenage pregnancies. That attitude ultimately creates a environment that punishes, stigmatizes, and shames young mothers — many of whom are subject to much larger structural issues that are out of their control, like the type of sex education they received in school or the level of poverty they were born into.
Unfortunately, the situation in Michigan is hardly the only example of this dynamic in play. Here are five other instances of teen moms being shamed instead of supported:
1. A North Carolina high schooler’s photo won’t appear in her yearbook because she posed with her newborn son. One teen mom in North Carolina can relate all too well to the pregnant students in Michigan. After posing for a photo with her baby son, she was told that the picture wouldn’t be allowed to appear in the yearbook this year. The school claimed that the image would “promote teen pregnancy” and told the student she had two days to submit a different photo without her son. She declined, saying, “If he wasn’t going to be in it with me, I didn’t want be in it at all.”
2. One Louisiana high school banned pregnant teens from attending classes on campus altogether. Last year, a charter school in Louisiana received significant backlash for its policy forbidding pregnant students from remaining on campus. According to the school handbook, pregnant students were required to either switch to another school or begin a home school program — and if the school “suspected” a girl of being pregnant, administrators could force her to take a pregnancy test to find out for sure. After the ACLU stepped in to file a formal discrimination complaint, the Louisiana Department of Education ordered the school to drop its policy.
3. A celebrity-studded national campaign tells teens that being a mother is incompatible with being successful. Public service campaigns that stigmatize young parents are all too common. Teens are often bombarded with negative messages intended to dissuade them from having a baby at a young age — but instead of focusing on effective information about tools to prevent pregnancy, like information about where to access affordable birth control or other family planning support, these ads simply focus on how teen mothers’ lives are ruined. Many of them also have the added effect of dismissing parenthood altogether. A recent campaign from the Candie’s Foundation depicts celebrity’s faces alongside these messages, including Carly Rae Jepson proclaiming that being a mother prevents women from achieving great things: