Finding Safe Haven at the Center of a National Debate

PHOTO Despite becoming a mother at just 14, Mahogany is determined to graduate from high school

It's late afternoon and a new mother is desperately trying to get her son to sleep. She has homework to do and a crying baby isn't good for concentration.

"I'm exhausted and tired and it's kind of getting on my nerves, but you just have to deal with it," Mahogany says. Mahogany became pregnant between the eighth and ninth grades, and gave birth to her son Khaesyn just two weeks before her 15th birthday.

Mahogany's situation is typical of many teenage mothers: She's the daughter of a single mother who was also a teenage mother; her son's father is only sporadically involved in his life and basic necessities are not always readily available.

When "Primetime" visited her Louisville home, there was no electricity.

Watch the premiere of "Primetime: Family Secrets" Tuesday, June 23 at 10 p.m. ET.

Although there are a lot of things she doesn't have, Mahogany does have a very special school to help her.

After she gets her son to sleep, a teacher from the Westport Teenage Parent Program (TAPP) arrives to help her catch up with homework.

TAPP, one of two schools in Louisville for pregnant teens, has provided educational, medical and daycare support services to the city's teen moms and moms-to-be since 1970. Current enrollment is 320 girls and TAPP will provide on-site nursery care to 190 babies this year.

Mahogany enrolled in TAPP when she was five-and-a-half months pregnant. In addition to the logistical support it provides, Westport TAPP is also a safe haven for girls like Mahogany who sometimes feel isolated and ostracized during their pregnancies.

"I didn't want to face anybody. I didn't want to go to school, so that's when I heard of TAPP," Mahogany says. "This was the only place I knew I could go to."

When everyone's pregnant, no one can judge.

Despite the obvious challenges, Mahogany is driven to succeed and says she doesn't want anyone's pity. She also hopes to be the first one in her family to graduate from college.

'Knew I Was Gonna End Up Having a Baby at a Young Age'

"I want to be an English teacher or a veterinarian," Mahogany says. "I gets As and Bs. But I'm not really satisfied with the Bs. I'm trying to get all As."

While only 60 percent of teen mothers graduate from high school, TAPP boasts a 96 percent graduation rate. Mahogany's own mother attended TAPP. Daughters of teen mothers are three times more likely to become teen mothers. Mahogany feels it was an impossible cycle to break.

"Somehow, I just knew that I was gonna end up ... having a baby at a young age," she says.

For a teenage mother, TAPP makes it easier to stay in school. One side of the school teaches traditional high school classes, like science and English. The other side has five child care centers, with Beatrix Potter-inspired names for the nurseries, like Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail.

In the middle of the school is an on-site clinic where doctors and nurses can keep an eye on the pregnant girls and, after they give birth, their newborns. Pink lockers are spread throughout the building to encourage the young mothers to behave "like ladies."

"What's different about this school, in terms of alternative schools for pregnant parenting teens, is we have all of the support services under one roof. We have social services, we have a medical clinic. We have our child care," principal Sarah York says.

Alternative high schools like TAPP have fallen out of favor in recent years due to education budget crunches as well as changing attitudes regarding teen pregnancy. In most states, teenage mothers who wish to continue their education go to regular schools.

Mahogany considered having an abortion but says her mother wouldn't allow it. In Kentucky, teenagers are required to get parental permission before having an abortion.

Choosing Not to Have an Abortion, Amidst Heated Local Debate

"I wanted an abortion, but not the adoption thing. My momma, she doesn't believe in abortion, so I had to go with what she said," Mahogany says. "I'm glad I didn't. It's a good experience."

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization focused on sexual and reproductive health research, nearly a third of all teen pregnancies end in abortion. However, the abortion rate among teens ages 15 to 17 has fallen 55 percent in the last 35 years.

Mahogany's struggle over abortion puts her at the center of a debate that rages across the country, and in her own backyard. A nearby abortion clinic, the EMW Women's Surgical Center in downtown Louisville, has long been a focus for local anti-abortion rights activists.

They are nothing if not committed to their cause. Donna Durning has joined the protests five days a week for the past 11 years to pray, sing and try to convince women to carry their pregnancies to term. "Sometimes people say, 'how can you do that every day?' And my answer is, 'How can I not do it?' There are babies being killed and women that are being harmed by abortions."

Equally devoted to their cause are the clinic escorts who attempt to shield the women from what they feel are unnecessary attacks, as well as the clinic's director. "I've been here for 10 years and it never ceases to amaze me that this kind of stuff can go on in today's day and age. That somebody can't go look for medical care without being harassed. To me, that's psychological abuse and emotional abuse," she says.

While there is no end in sight for the fight over abortion, Mahogany does have a final dream in sight, as she continues on at TAPP, where she is an honor student. "I'm gonna do what I have to do to be successful to make his life and my life better and easier."

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