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NYC Faces Backlash for PSAs ‘Shaming’ Teen Parents

We think you’ll agree that everyone wants to reduce teen pregnancy rates. But some citizens and advocacy organizations aren’t too happy with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s Human Resources Administration‘s latest attempt to dissuade teens from becoming parents with a bold new PSA campaign that seems to leverage the power of shame.

The campaign consists of posters like the one to the left that pair photos of distraught infants with harrowing facts like “90% of teen parents don’t marry each other”. Each poster encourages viewers to text HRA to learn more and offers “games” that allow users to follow pregnant teenage couples and answer questions like “my GF is pregnant! Prom is coming up and she’s not going, should I stay in or go to prom? Reply ‘promyes’ or ‘promno’”. It’s a sort of Choose-Your-Own-Adventure for the at-risk teenage set. User engagement, calls to action–seems like it could make for effective advocacy PR.

Planned Parenthood is not amused, however.

In public statements, the group labeled the PSAs a “negative” campaign based on “shock value” and “gender stereotypes” of deadbeat dads and irresponsible moms. The group argued that city officials’ time would be better spent “helping teens access health care, birth control and high-quality sexual and reproductive health education.”

Bloomberg’s spokesperson responded by claiming that they are, in fact, doing all of the above and that a strong message of social responsibility is a natural extension of those efforts. Something seems to be working: New York City’s teen pregnancy rates dropped approximately 26% over the last decade thanks to increases in birth control usage and slight declines in sexual activity.

What do we think? Is this an effective campaign or a step too far?

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