National Post

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Tuesday, April 13, 1999

Maritime teens view pregnancy as way out

Adrian Humphreys
National Post

Teenagers in the Maritimes are intentionally getting pregnant so they can access welfare payments and subsidized housing, according to women's health workers.

In one Nova Scotian rural county, one-third of teenagers who requested a pregnancy test was actively trying to get pregnant.

Arlene MacDonald, director of Planned Parenthood in Pictou County, northeast of Halifax, said she saw a 16-year-old girl for a pregnancy test every month until the test was finally positive.

"I see a lot of young women who have bought into the belief that having a child will set them up in an apartment and lead them on the road to financial independence. It is not until they are in the situation that they realize they have actually brought themselves into a life of poverty."

Counsellors provide information on choices and options but cannot stop teens from trying to get pregnant, she said.

Ms. MacDonald estimates one-third of the approximately 100 teens that come to the Pictou County clinic every month for a pregnancy test is hoping to learn they are pregnant.

Another third is terrified by the prospect, and the remainder is unsure but does not try to prevent pregnancy. Pictou County is a rural community of about 50,000 people.

It is also a phenomenon in Halifax, Fredericton, and St. John's, Nfld., but on a smaller scale, clinic staff said.

Liz Garland, co-ordinator of Planned Parenthood of Newfoundland and Labrador, said she sees teens using pregnancy as a means of escape, but has had fewer cases recently because of changes in provincial regulations raising the eligibility age for social assistance.

Ms. MacDonald said the problem lies in part with the public's perception of single welfare mothers "living high off the hog." That encourages teenagers to emulate that, she said.

In Nova Scotia, a single mother with one child receives $880 a month in social assistance.

Ontario announced last month it would be the first province to force teenaged mothers on welfare to return to high school as soon as possible after their baby is born. The plan drew sharp criticism from such agencies as Toronto's Planned Parenthood.

But Ms. MacDonald thinks the plan might help take some of the gloss off the image of a teenager with a baby.

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