No Movie Endings for Pregnant Teenagers

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The Toronto Star

No Movie Endings for Pregnant Teenagers

Nicole Richie's new baby daughter is not Paris Hilton's latest purse, or even her chihuahua.

Neither is Christina Aguilera's new son, Courtney Thorne-Smith's new boy or the soon-to-be spawn of Nicole Kidman, Jennifer Lopez, Halle Berry, or even Britney's 16-year-old sister Jamie Lynn Spears.

Babies, babies everywhere.

In the U.S., the birth rate among teenagers aged 15 to 19 has shot up after 14 years of declining. In Canada, at least as of 2004, it's been contracting, while the abortion rate has been heading up.

And yet, the celebrity baby bumps assault us all at the supermarket checkouts. So why the difference?

Understand that there's no evidence girls are having babies because it's the thing to do – although, in the U.S., they're being applauded for doing it while being condemned for doing IT.

So, if you're looking for where to put the blame for the bump in teen babymaking in the U.S., try the George W. Bush administration's abstinence-only sex education, parental notification/consent laws and changes to the Medicaid drug rebate law that has doubled and tripled the cost of contraception on college campuses – all things to stand on guard against in Canada.

That, plus a religious-political climate that has put the historic Roe v. Wade decision in jeopardy.

Even here, but at a far lower rate, girls are getting knocked up because some school systems don't counsel them on choices. They don't know how to get contraception, or can't afford it. The rubber broke. Or boys are also not taking any responsibility for their actions.

It takes two to bango and it's always the girls who bear the brunt – and the baby. (Meanwhile, boys get bragging rights and the ability to get on with life visibly, if not emotionally, unscathed.)

So let's kill the notion that girls are getting pregnant because they want to be just like Jessica Alba – although they may well want to be just like Jessica Alba, only not pregnant. They're not stupid enough to think that having a child, dropping out of school, as 51 per cent of U.S. teen mothers do, and living in hardship is as glamorous as the lives of Madonna, Angelina or Katie.

But, just when the hit movie Juno debuted last month, the news about the climbing teen birth rate hit the headlines. Everybody began drawing connections to celeb baby mania and the recent spate of other flicks about unplanned pregnancies (Knocked Up, Waitress, Bella, Quinceañera) that end so cute you want to have morning sickness in your popcorn bag.

That's because, in Hollywoodland, the pregnancies bring all sorts of wonderful things to the pregnant characters – career boosts, huge inheritances, pie shops, toad-fathers-turned-into-Prince Charmings.

Not so much in real life. Which isn't surprising. That's show biz.

But is the entertainment industry so cowed by the religious hordes – or incapable of conceiving a strong woman who chooses not to go to term – that it can't come up with a script that doesn't end with a crib?

Maybe not: Not only does the U.S. have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world – more than double that of Canada's – it also makes it harder for women to get abortions.

No wonder the option of, as it was so famously put in Knocked Up, "shashmortion'' is quickly dismissed, if it's ever discussed. From Murphy Brown to Friends' Rachel, Sex and the City's Miranda Hobbes, it's all about bringing up baby.

And so, only about a third of U.S. teens terminate their pregnancies. Canadian stats, although not as recent, show that about two-thirds of teens choose abortion.

The cultural difference is so sharp that U.S. networks have yet to air, uncut, the 1989 episodes of Canada's Degrassi High in which a pregnant teen fights her way through shouting demonstrators at an abortion clinic. By contrast, the lone protestor in Juno is a girl from the title character's high school, who scares off Juno by telling her that the fetus already has fingernails.

Which scenario is more realistic?

If I were young, scared and pregnant, I wouldn't want to run the gauntlet of placard-waving protestors telling me I was going to hell, that's for sure.

I'd want to be in Canada where choice is still a choice.

Antonia Zerbisias

Antonia Zerbisias is a columnist for the Toronto Star. In addition to her Star columns, you can read Antonia - and talk back to her - on her blog Broadsides.

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