Barbara Huberman was working as a nurse in the late 1970s at a maternity home in Charlotte when she was asked to assist with the delivery of a 10-year-old girl’s baby.
She held the young girl’s hand throughout the grueling two-day childbirth. Later, when she checked on the girl, she found her coloring in a Mickey Mouse book, newborn baby in a bassinet by her side. The striking image of these two young children, one a new mother, motivated her to lead efforts to curtail teen pregnancy.
“I just couldn’t do it anymore, with the children getting younger and sadder,” Huberman told the Charlotte Observer in 1995. “I said, ‘Someone’s got to work on prevention.’ ”
Huberman, an adolescent sexuality educator who developed state and national teen pregnancy prevention campaigns and programs, died May 17 at a hospice in Rockville, Md. She was 72. The cause was leukemia, said her son-in-law, Mark Bucher.
Teaming up with United Way in North Carolina, Huberman began engaging communities and recruiting volunteers for teen pregnancy prevention councils. The grassroots groups created long-term plans for reducing local teen pregnancy rates.
Councils might, for example, train teachers in sex education, coordinate awareness campaigns and promote access to family planning by helping clinics expand their hours of operation.
Their success led to the foundation in 1985 of the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolinawhich remains the only statewide nonprofit dedicated to adolescent sexual health. The state assembly quickly launched a state-funded partnership with the nonprofit.
“When she founded our organization, the rates had been steadily increasing,” said Elizabeth Finley, an APPCNC spokeswoman. “About 1 in 10 girls aged 15 to 19 experienced teen pregnancy in North Carolina.”
She spearheaded the reversal of this trend six years after APPCNC was established, Finley said.
Model for other states
During Huberman’s tenure, she helped form more than 60 councils in the state’s 100 counties and led two national public education campaigns that encouraged open parent-child communication regarding sexuality: National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month in May and Let’s Talk Month in October.
Inspired by APPCNC’s progress, more than 10 states adopted similar programming models, including South Carolina, Illinois and Massachusetts.
In South Carolina, her campaign efforts contributed significantly to a 47 percent reduction in teen births throughout the state. The efforts were so successful that the organization’s statewide publications referred to her as the “godmother of adolescent sexuality and teen pregnancy prevention.”
“Prevention will not happen on the national level,” Huberman told the publication Youth Today in 1996, “it will happen at the local level – with Sunday school teachers, in clinics and in boys and girls clubs.”
She left for Washington in 1995 to serve as the director of education and outreach at Advocates for Youth, a District of Columbia-based nonprofit organization focused on teen sexual and reproductive health.
At Advocates for Youth, she led a series of study tours to Europe after noticing that countries there had lower rates of teen births, sexually transmitted diseases and abortions despite similar teen sexual-activity rates.
“In the Netherlands, Germany, and France, teen sexual behavior is a developmental and public health issue,” Huberman co-wrote in an Advocates for Youth publication. “Teen sexual behavior in the United States is viewed in many contexts: a moral failing, a political issue, a private family matter, a public health concern, but seldom as a developmental matter.”
The study explored the sociological, cultural and community factors that influence teen sexual behavior in Europe and aimed to debunk the argument that providing and distributing comprehensive information about healthy sexual practices promoted promiscuity.
“In Europe, what we saw was that they trusted young people to make good decisions about sex. It was pretty revolutionary,” said Tom Klaus, a former director of capacity building and sustainability at Advocates for Youth. “It completely reframed our way of thinking and communicating with young people.”
Using the lessons learned in her international studies, Huberman developed a national safe-sex movement: “Rights. Respect. Responsibility,” which encouraged addressing adolescent sexual behavior with an open, healthy and respectful attitude.
“To opponents of sexuality education and family planning services for youth who say, ‘I don’t care if it works or not, it’s morally wrong,’ ” she testified before North Carolina’s General Assembly in 1996, “I say it is morally wrong for us to allow young people to be sent into the adult world without the knowledge, skills and values to negotiate sexual decision making responsibly.”
Early Lamaze instructor
Barbara Ann Kemp was born Aug. 25, 1941, in Miami. She was a 1963 graduate of the University of Florida nursing school in Gainesville and received a master’s degree in education from the University of North Carolina in 1972.
She was an emergency nurse in Miami before moving to Charlotte with her husband in 1964. In the mid-1960s, she was reportedly one of the nation’s first Lamaze natural childbirth instructors.
She was a past president of what is now Healthy Teen Network, a past vice president of the National Lamaze Association and a founding board member of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. She also was an adjunct professor at UNC Charlotte and wrote books on teen pregnancy prevention.
Her marriage to Jeffrey Huberman ended in divorce. Survivors include two children, Amy Huberman Bucher of Bethesda, Md., and Marc Huberman of Charlotte, and four grandchildren.