GLOUCESTER, Mass., Oct. 2, 2008 -- The high school pediatrician at the heart of a scandal over a so-called pregnancy pact in Gloucester, Mass., this summer says that the nation is in the midst of a "teen pregnancy crisis.''
"Gloucester High School is not the issue,'' said Dr. Brian Orr, who quit his post as director of the school health clinic after the hospital group overseeing the school health center refused to allow him to offer contraceptives to students.
"The issue is why is teen pregnancy on the rise again across the country.''
The Gloucester school district is studying the pros and cons of revamping the sex education program at the high school. Officials there have enlisted the help of a panel of experts and are holding public hearings this week in which parents, students and community members can weigh in with their opinions.
"We are in a teen pregnancy crisis in this country and the question we all need to be asking is why we are not addressing it,'' Orr told ABC News Wednesday night.
The high school became the focus of a nationwide debate over teen pregnancy after Time magazine reported in June that a number of girls at the high school had made a "pact" to get pregnant and raise their children together. The school's principal, Joseph Sullivan, who had been the source of the magazine story, resigned.
Gloucester Mayor Carolyn Kirn denied that there had been a pact, and a city investigation led by her office reportedly found that no pact had been made.
Still, at least 17 students became pregnant this year, highlighting the question of whether reproductive health services should be offered to students there, Sullivan said. Gloucester operates one of 47 health centers statewide, authorized by the state department of health, according to the Boston Globe, which reported last month that 43 of those health centers offer reproductive health services.
Following the two public hearings -- the second of which will be held tonight at Gloucester City Hall -- the school board is expected to vote on the contraception issue at its Oct. 8 meeting, according to the Globe.
Orr, who will address officials at tonight's public hearing, said the students who he said sought to get pregnant, were dangerously misguided.
"There was a group of kids who wanted to get pregnant,'' Orr said, referring to the Gloucester students. "We did not think that the majority of the 18 pregnancies were intentional, but there was a minority of kids who wanted to get pregnant.
"For some of them, it was a fleeting idea: 'now my life is complete. I have a boyfriend. I'll have a baby.' Kids have these fantasies, these fleeting thoughts. But after they are pregnant, it is too late. There were others who were playing roulette games, drinking at parties and having unprotected sex.
"Every one of these girls had individual stories,'' Orr said.
When he learned of the pregnancies, Orr said he approached officials at Northeast Health Systems, the owner of the hospital that oversees the school's health clinic, seeking permission to distribute birth control without parental consent. The request was denied and he quit, along with nurse practitioner Kim Daly.
Orr told the Gloucester Daily Times this week that officials at Northeast Health, in denying the request, had cited concerns about legal liability, should students experience adverse reactions to birth control pills.
An official told the newspaper that Northeast Health was not ideologically opposed to prescribing birth control to students, but wanted assurances of community support for such a policy, and wanted the school board to vote on it first.
Orr, author of the "Pediatrician's Journal: Caring for Children in a Broken Medical System," said it was clear to him that the community wants something done. He also pointed out that, under Massachusetts law, teenagers have the right to obtain birth control without parental consent.
"Clearly, abstinence is not the answer,'' Orr said. "I stand on my principles and I think it's important to protect teen rights."
Residents at the sparsely attended hearing Wednesday night were divided on the issue, according to school board chairman Greg Verga.
Pamela Tobey, a junior, represented the Gloucester High School Student Council and said that contraceptives should be available, "with limits."