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NYC Mayor's Campaign Against Teen Pregnancy Widely Criticized


New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is no stranger to controversy. His effort to scale back sugary soft drinks was struck down by a judge. And we're going to hear now about another health campaign that's got him on the defensive. This one is an effort to reduce teen pregnancy, as NPR's Margot Adler reports.

MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: Teen pregnancy rates have actually gone down in New York City - 27 percent in the last decade - but some 20,000 teen pregnancies still occur each year. The ad campaign by the city's Human Resource Administration put some 4,000 posters in buses and subways, most featuring disgruntled babies; most of them, children of color.They have slogans like, "Dad, you'll be paying to support me for the next 20 years," and "Honestly, Mom, chances are he won't stay with you. What happens to me?" For Mayor Bloomberg, having a blunt message is important.

MAYOR MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: The ads will highlight that it costs $10,000 per year, on average, to support a child; that the children of teen parents are twice as likely not to graduate high school; and perhaps most important, that if teens graduate high school, get a job and marry before becoming parents, they have a 98 percent chance of not being in poverty.

ADLER: Mayor Bloomberg has often been on the same wavelength as health advocacy groups like Planned Parenthood. He gave $250,000 to the organization after the Susan G. Komen Foundation cut off grants to Planned Parenthood. And many city high schools have reproductive health offices. But some of his liberal allies were outraged by the poster. Here is MSNBC commentator Melissa Harris Perry, who spoke for many women of color; calling it a campaign of shame.

MELISSA HARRIS PERRY: This image of a child mocking her young mother with partner abandonment is simply a step too far. Maybe you don't realize this, Mr. Mayor, but most of us who were raised by single moms never had any interest in shaming them. We tend to praise them, recognize their sacrifices.

ADLER: Some conservative newspapers like the New York Post said blunt language was necessary. Some anti-abortion groups said the campaign put blame on babies, not on inappropriate sexual conduct. Some mayoral candidates, like purported mayoral front-runner Christine Quinn, said the language should be toned down.

CHRISTINE QUINN: I thought these ads were harsh.

ADLER: Groups like Planned Parenthood argued that poverty causes teen pregnancy, not - as the ads argue - the other way around. But the city is not backing down. Samantha Levine, a spokesperson for the mayor, said it's well past the time when anyone can afford to be value neutral when it comes to teen pregnancy.

Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.



You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Margot Adler died on July 28, 2014 at her home in New York City. She was 68 and had been battling cancer. Listen to NPR Correspondent David Folkenflik's retrospective on her life and career