BOSTON — A Massachusetts city is investigating an apparent teenage "pregnancy pact" that may be partially responsible for the fact that at least 17 girls at one high school are expecting babies, four times more than last year, including many age 16 or younger.
A high school health clinic in Gloucester became suspicious after seeing a surge in girls seeking pregnancy tests. Local officials said Thursday that nearly half of those who became pregnant appeared to have entered into a pact to have their babies together over the year.
"Some girls seemed more upset when they weren't pregnant than when they were," Gloucester High School Principal Joseph Sullivan told Time magazine, which first reported the story on its website.
Sullivan was not immediately available to comment for this article. But local officials said that at least some of the fathers were in their mid-20s, including one man who appeared to be homeless. Others were boys in the school.
Carolyn Kirk, mayor of the port city 30 miles northeast of Boston, said authorities were looking at whether to pursue statutory rape charges. "We're at the very early stages of wrestling with the complexities of this problem," she said.
"But we also have to think about the boys. Some of these boys could have their lives changed. They could be in serious, serious trouble even if it was consensual because of their age -- not from what the city could do but from what the girls' families could do," she said.
Under Massachusetts law, it is a crime to have sex with anyone under the age of 16.
"At the very least these men should be held responsible for financial support, if not put in jail for statutory rape, as the mayor has suggested," Greg Verga, chairman of the Gloucester School Committee, said in a telephone interview.
Nationwide, teen pregnancies are showing signs of rising after steadily declining from 1991 to 2005.
"The data seem to be indicating that the declines that we had seen through the 1990s are coming to a close," said David Landry, a researcher at the Guttmacher Institute, a New York nonprofit group focusing on reproductive issues.
Birth rates for teenagers 15 to 17 rose by 3% in 2006, the first increase since 1991, according to preliminary data released in December by the National Center for Health Statistics.
In Gloucester, the 1,200-student school administered 150 pregnancy tests to students in the last academic year.
The school forbids the distribution of condoms and other contraception without parental consent, a rule that prompted the school's doctor and nurse to resign in protest in May.