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Pact or no, kids were still irresponsible

It was such a good story: Teen girls make pregnancy pact.

What?! No!! America's presses didn't exactly screech to a halt, but the media lapped up the story, with reporters descending on tiny Gloucester, Mass., from as far away as Brazil and Poland.

Teens making a pact to get pregnant enjoyed several news cycles not because it was so unbelievable, but because it was, alas, so believable.

And, because it's summer.

And the Democratic primaries are over.

Which is to say, we were due a sensational blockbuster with some sexual sizzle: Teen girls gone wild!

The salacious saga had all the elements we crave in a good yarn. Sex, teens, politics, illegitimacy - and then some. There was even a homeless sperm donor, presumably seduced by one of the girls in order to join her chums in Labor & Delivery.

Except it wasn't quite true. There are apparently 17 (maybe) pregnant girls in Gloucester High School - which would be four times the usual pregnancy rate - but officials now say the pact was post-preggo rather than a conspiracy to become pregnant.

Or was it? As waistlines thicken, so goes the plot.

The original story, broken by Time magazine, was based on comments by the school principal, who said the recent spike in teen pregnancies was the result of a pact among some of the girls. The principal has now been overruled, both by the town's mayor and by the mothers-to-be, some of whom are enjoying a very short date with fame.

Pregnant Lindsey Oliver, 17, who appeared on "Good Morning America" with her baby's father, Andrew Psalidas, 20, said the girls became pregnant by coincidence, after which they agreed to help each other out.

The couple said they hadn't intended to have a child and were simply unlucky. Now, they're just trying to do the right thing. Why all the fuss?

Teenagers getting pregnant is, indeed, less interesting without a conspiracy. How the pact story got started is unclear. The principal is taking a timely vacation and has offered no further comment. Confirming the pregnancies, meanwhile, has proved problematic owing to privacy concerns.

Without the pact, we're merely left with the crude banality of several babies about to be born to children and a few dozen dangling questions unanswered.

Here's one: Where's Dad? Not the "fathers" of these unfortunate pre-borns, but the fathers of these pregnant girls.

Where, in other words, is the shotgun?

Back in the day when birth control and abortion weren't readily available to high school kids, fathers were pretty good deterrents to pregnancy. Boys knew they'd have kneecap problems if they got daddy's little girl pregnant. If they were lucky, they'd be married by the morning after.

Girls, meanwhile, were less likely to risk pregnancy because alternatives to motherhood were few, adoption being the most likely.

It wasn't a foolproof system, clearly, but the specter of lifelong consequences, combined with societal and parental disapproval, helped keep the illegitimate birthrate down.

Today, using the term "illegitimate" is more likely to spark disapproval than the activities contributing to the plague of unwed pregnancies. For sure there are far fewer fathers around to give young men The Eye. It is a fair guess, though not possible to confirm at this point, that at least some of Gloucester's pregnant daughters are from fatherless homes.

That guess is founded on sound social science indicating a strong correlation between father absence and a high risk for early sex and unwed pregnancy. Not only do fathers provide the masculine affection so many girls seek elsewhere, but they teach their daughters how to handle male sexual aggression, as well as to understand their own role in stimulating that aggression.

Thus far, there's been little mention of the family dynamic that often foretells the tragedy of children having children. Instead, most of the debate has centered on whether these girls and boys had enough access to sex education and contraceptives.

Other conversations have circled around the influence of movies, such as "Juno," that glamorize teen pregnancy. In the movie, 16-year-old Juno is adorably pregnant and far wiser than the film's adults.

Whatever happened in Gloucester, we know this much. Today's girls and boys daily marinate in a culture that offers little instruction in responsibility and self-control - or the importance of marriage as antecedent to procreation - but celebrates single motherhood and encourages sex without strings.

The surprise isn't that 17 girls are pregnant at one high school. The surprise is that there aren't more.

E-mail nationally syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker at kparker@kparker.com.