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pregnant boys billboard

Amber Gulla/MEDILL

The Chicago Department of Public Health's new ads promote the idea that boys are just as responsible as girls during teen pregnancy.     

Health department billboards show pregnant teen boys

by Amber Gulla
May 16, 2013

Chicago commuters have seen billboards on teen pregnancy before. But this week, the Chicago Department of Public Health displayed new advertisement with a provocative concept: pregnant boys.

With the tagline “unexpected?” the billboard is sparking lots of attention - and controversy.

The billboards “make the case that teen parenthood is more than just a girl’s responsibility,” according to the health department.

David E. Smith, executive director of the Illinois Family Institute, had a completely different reaction. “My initial thought was ‘Really? Are you serious?’” he said. “It seems like they’re promoting gender confusion instead of a healthy sexual lifestyle.”

Smith is more concerned about whether or not Chicagoans will understand the actual meaning behind the billboard. “The question is what is that billboard promoting? Is it supposed to shock people?” he said. “I wonder if immature minds [will] understand it.”

Bevan K. Baker, commissioner of health for the city of Milwaukee, approves the “guerilla tactic” that Chicago is taking to help lower the rate of teen pregnancy. Milwaukee posted similar billboards last year and they worked as part of a larger initiative, he said.

“It was the first of many public awareness tactics,” he said. “It’s meant to create dialogue and engagement by the community.” Milwaukee started the initiative in 2006, and saw a decrease in teen birth rate for five consecutive years. Baker said he hopes to reduce the teen pregnancy rate by 46 percent by 2015.

The health department posted the ads in prime spots such as CTA trains, buses and stations. Kristen K., 23, who asked that her last name not be used, said she understood the billboard, but could see why it might cause some confusion.

“I just saw it as men being as responsible in teen pregnancies,” said Kristen, who also believes that the targeted community and age group might read it wrong and get angry about it. “The younger age group might see it and say, ‘Men can’t get pregnant. This is stupid,’” she said. “However, I don’t think the billboard is pointless.”

Although Smith said that teen pregnancy is an issue to be discussed, he also said he believes that abstinence until marriage is the best way to help. “You should save yourself until marriage,” he said. “The surest way to poverty is to have a child out of wedlock.”

According to Baker, not all teens are going to be abstinent, so it’s better to make sure they understand all of the repercussions involved with being sexually active.

“I don’t have a problem with abstinence education, but I do have a problem with abstinence ONLY education,” said Baker. “It’s like, if you have an entire toolbox, would you build your house with just the hammer?”

According to Smith, “the health department would do better to promote a clear message” instead of an obscure image to promote discussion.

Baker said he believes that using powerful advertisements and marketing is extremely useful with matters such as teen pregnancy.

“I’m happy this is one component for Chicago,” said Baker, who called the similar ad in Milwaukee one of the strategies they used to help lower their teen pregnancy rate. “But my question is what are their other components? Public awareness is just one."