Friday, October 19, 2007

Contraceptives at the Middle School: A Story, or Not?

A couple of people have pointed this story out to me, and I guess I don't know what to make of it. A middle school up in Maine is starting to provide birth control pills and other contraceptives at the health center.

Here's NPR's take on it:
School officials in Portland, Maine, voted to make birth control pills available to students at one of the city's middle schools.

The contraceptives would be available to girls in the seventh and eighth grades, with their parents' permission.

The move, sanctioned late Wednesday in a 7-2 vote by the Portland School Committee, follows a spate of pregnancies among middle school girls.

King Middle School will be Maine's first school to have a full range of contraception available, including birth control pills and patches. Condoms have been available at King's health center since 2000.

A school health center will make birth control pills available to girls as young as 11. Prescriptions will be given after a student undergoes a physical exam by a physician or nurse practitioner, according to Lisa Belanger, who oversees Portland's student health centers.

Parents must consent to their children using the school's health center, as most middle school students are ages 11 to 13.

Nevertheless, treatment is confidential under state law. That means students can decide whether to inform their parents about the services they receive. Maine Middle School to Issue Birth Control Pills

So, if I'm reading this right, parents can say that a kid can or cannot use the health center's services, but if they say yes, they can't tell if their kid is getting contraceptives there or not, because it's confidential.

Now, you know that the expected reflexive reaction to this is to sputter something about "parental control" blah blah blah. But look, they say seventeen girls have gotten pregnant in Portland schools in the last four years, and I doubt their parents had a lot of control over that!

OK, so here's my question. Can an 11-year-old girl in Maine go somewhere and get a prescription for birth control pills, without her parents finding out? That's a real question. Can a girl go to a clinic or somewhere and get this stuff without a parent's consent, or not?

If they can, then this is purely a non-story, just some reporters trying to stir up some excitement. It sounds like this health center has a doctor or somebody who can prescribe medicine, I expect they administer antibiotics and stuff, Ritalin and antidepressants and Tylenol, right? So they've just extended their service a little bit. Nobody wants to see middle-school girls getting pregnant, so if they're having sex they need to be careful, and the school can help out with that.

If girls can't get these pills somewhere else, and the school is unique in making them available to them, then this is a different story, and parents should feel the school is, if not undermining them, at least competing with them to make some kinds of decisions that parents may want to make themselves.

I see an AP version of the story that says, "The birth control will be given out only after extensive counseling, and no prepubescent children will get it, [school committee member Robert] O'Brien said." So ... that's something.

Here's an important quote from the AP story.
Principal Michael McCarthy said the school had just one pregnancy last year, but students were reporting they were sexually active. The center has dispensed condoms since 2000, but because it could not prescribe birth-control pills, nurses referred the students to Planned Parenthood or Maine Medical Center.

"When they followed up, they found that in many cases, the kids weren't doing that," McCarthy said. Maine School to Offer Contraceptives

OK, that answers my question. This is a non-story.

And I've got to say, NPR has really become bad. How could they report about this without including that entirely crucial fact? They're getting as bad as the other zombie media.

These girls could go to Planned Parenthood or the Medical Center and get the exact same thing, but they don't. Schools aren't taking any control away from parents, because parents don't have control anyway. If the girl wants to go to one of these other places and get her pills or a patch, she can. The school's just making it easier, so that girls who need this stuff will be able to get it without going across town or whatever.

This of course ties right into the earlier post about the effects of making abortion illegal. The one thing that brings abortion rates down -- something everybody would like to see -- is making contraceptives more available. So this is just a win-win all the way around.

And so, tell me, why is this in the news? I'll tell you why. It's in the news because the journalists know they can get a predictable reaction from lazy-brained moralists who will jump to the well-trained, now-automatic conclusion that the schools are trying to take over their responsibility for raising their kids. Well, I'll tell you, no kid goes and asks their parents for permission to have sex, okay? It doesn't happen. Parents don't get to decide that. I don't mean "most of the time," I mean "ever."

But just watch the reaction to this. People in Maine are going to do that thing they do these days instead of thinking, that CRC thing. You want to take bets they get the school to reverse this decision? Think the Portland school board can stand up to the attack of the self-righteous walking dead?

I think we'll follow this one for a little while.


Blogger Tish said...

I have an unanswered question. Will the physicians at Portland's Planned Parenthood give an exam and a prescription to minors without parents' consent? In Maryland they will. If that's the case in Maine, then the school's health center is actually giving parents a much stronger voice in this decision than Planned Parenthood.

October 19, 2007 9:14 AM  

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