ABC's Pregnant Priorities

ABC's Good Morning America marked the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision by featuring interviews on Tuesday with three teens who are pregnant, plus a girl who has already had her child.  The segment was a mixed bag, but it ultimately came down on the side of personal responsibility.

The one cheap shot came in the on-line story at ABC News accompanying the piece:

Despite millions spent on ad campaigns and abstinence-only programs, for the first time in 15 years the teen birthrate rose, according to government statistics for 2005 to 2006, the most recent numbers available. 

Given that abstinence programs get a fraction of the government money given to condom-based programs of the Planned Parenthood variety, why are the abstinence programs singled out for failure? In previous years, when the pregnancy rate was declining following the introduction of abstinence programs, most major media gave credit to the condom programs instead. Now that the teen birthrate is up, ABC points the finger at abstinence.

The Good Morning America segment, by comparison, avoided the temptation.

After an intro by Diane Sawyer, Deborah Roberts of ABC News questioned the girls about their pregnancies without suggesting they could have had abortions. And the teens accepted accountability, blaming no one else. They seemed well aware that their actions would affect others, including their families and peers. 

On the down side, the girls matter of factly said they had sex, and it's just what's happening now. No one asked whether, if they had it to do again, would they have refrained from sex or even waited until marriage?  Nor did anyone bring up any moral concerns about premarital sex among teens. Abstinence did not appear to be an option. And there was little mention of the responsibility of the boys who were to become fathers. That said, the focus was still on how to make the best of a tough situation.

After Diane Sawyer noted that 750,000 teens become pregnant each year, Roberts led off the discussion by noting that the hit movie Juno and 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears' pregnancy had brought the issue into fresh focus.

Here's part of her lead-in, followed by excerpts of her conversation with the girls.

ROBERTS: ….It seems teen pregnancy is the new hot topic in Hollywood but we wondered what it's like for that ordinary girl, the one down the block,  who is waking up this morning to the reality that she's about to become a mom.

JANELLE STEPHENS, 17:  I was shocked at first, 'cause I wasn't really expecting it.

TEKA, 18: First you're like, okay, this totally ruined my dreams.

ANGELA, 15: I was freaking out. My future and my school, I was terrified.

ROBERTS: Teenage girls, pregnant and now inhabiting a scary new world. Like 16-year-old Jamie Lynn Spears, a tween favorite in Nickelodeon's Zoey 101. They're joining the more than 750,000 other teen girls who have gotten the same news. Teen pregnancy is even the subject of a hot new movie, Juno, and it's sparking public debate. We sat down with some real-life pregnant teens to get their thoughts. Now five months pregnant, 15-year-old Angela had hoped to become a model. Teka, a straight-A student and leader in her church group is 17 and six months pregnant. Janelle, cheerleading captain, is 17 and two months pregnant.

ROBERTS:  People can't understand… they say come on, 2008, smart girls, how does this happen?

JANELLE:  If I had to choose a better time for this to happen, trust me, I would have. But. It happened, so --

TEKA STEWARD: We used protection. I think it broke. You don't really know it's happening until it's happened.

GMA then ran tape of Roberts interviewing another girl who has had her baby.

ROBERTS:  Ashley was only 17 when pregnant with little Max.

ASHLEY CHAPMAN, 18: At first I thought I would take care of it. And I realized I can't. I had sex. I have to be mature and deal with the consequences and grow up really fast.

After more conversation about how the girls were dealing with it personally, the talk turned to how it was affecting others.

JANELLE:  The other day my friend's little sister called me Jamie Lynn Spears. I felt heartbroken because I was like, she used to look up to me and I felt like I let her down in some kind of way. I felt bad.

ROBERTS: Do you ever have moments of regret? Do you ever look back and think, how could I have done this?

TEKA: I'm not going to encourage teens to, you know, have sex and get pregnant, but I'm you know, learning from this.

Roberts warned the girls about the odds being against them.

ROBERTS: For now, Tika, Jeanell, and Ashley are lucky. Their families and boyfriends have remained involved. But most teen moms find little support and wind up in poverty. Only a third finish high school, less than 3 percent finish college before age 30.  To people who say you ruined your lives, what do you say?

ANGELA: Not at all.

ASHLEY:  I don't think I have.

TEKA: It's good for a teenage mom to complete their dreams instead of quit everything.

ROBERTS:  But the statistics say you probably won't.

TEKA: That's beating the odds, you know.  

ASHLEY: I think we should make new statistics.

If the segment were to be graded, Good Morning America might rate a B-plus for coverage.

The girls? They get an A for attitude for taking ultimate responsibility for their unborn children.

Robert Knight is director of the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.