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Middle school students are at the center of a controversial movement, as the Portland School Board recently gave the green light to their medical staff to prescribe children — as young as 11 years old — prescription birth control medications. Meanwhile, the tweens don’t have to notify their parents. Is this insane? Yes — and maybe even illegal!
Here’s the background: the proposal, from the Portland Division of Public Health, calls for the independently operated health care center at King Middle School to provide a variety of services to students — including immunizations and physical checkups AND birth control medications and counseling for sexually transmitted diseases.
The plan, offered by city health officials, makes King Middle School the first junior high in Maine to make a full range of contraception available to students in grades six through eight … repeat, sixth through eighth grade! Health care professionals advised the school committee that the proposal was necessary in order for the clinic to serve students who were engaging in risky behavior.
The school principal, Mike McCarthy, said that five of the school’s 500 students had identified themselves as being sexually active and activists of the program don't think the program is as controversial as it sounds. “It has been shown, over and over again, that this does not increase sexual activity,” said Pat Patterson, the medical director of School Based Health Centers.
But as a mom of a 10-year-old girl, I cannot imagine her getting contraception from her SCHOOL without my knowledge! I am all for “health” classes in school and my daughter is now taking the D.A.R.E program where healthy messages are being reinforced. But, under the Maine plan, as long as I give my permission to the school health department that it’s OK for her to have an aspirin, she could get contraception without telling me.
Basically, students in Maine would decide for themselves whether to tell their parents about the services they receive. That’s too much responsibility on youngsters’ shoulders. (Types of prescription birth control that are available through the health centers include contraceptive pills, patches or injections, as well as the morning after pill.)
The statistics are alarming: According to the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care, about 30 percent of the 1,700 school-based health centers in the United States provide birth control to students.
"It's very rare that middle schools do this," said Divya Mohan, a spokeswoman for the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care. About one-fourth of student health centers that serve at least one grade of adolescents 11 and older dispense some form of contraception, said Mohan, whose Washington-based organization represents more than 1,700 school-based centers nationwide. Those in favor of providing contraception point out that the percentage of middle school students in Maine who reported having sexual intercourse dropped from 23 percent in 1997 to 13 percent in 2005, according to the Maine Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
There are no national figures on how many middle schools, where most students range in age from 11 to 13, provide such services.
According to the Associated Press, condoms have been available since 2000 to King students who have parental permission to be treated at its student health center. Understandably, parents in Maine are up in arms. “This is really a violation of parents’ rights,” Peter Doyle, a Portland resident, told the committee. “If there were a constitutional challenge, you guys would be at risk of a lawsuit.”
And Maine isn’t alone. Currently, seven states have no parental consent or notification for contraception: Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, the District of Columbia and New Hampshire. Judges in three states have blocked parental consent laws from taking effect pending further legal challenges: Alaska, California and Idaho. New Mexico’s parental consent law was blocked by the attorney general. Notification laws have been blocked by courts in Illinois, Montana, Nevada and New Jersey.
New Hampshire’s parental notification law had been challenged in court and a court had blocked enforcement of the law. As recent as June 2007, New Hampshire’s Governor Lynch signed legislation that repealed New Hampshire’s parental consent law, mooting the judicial challenge.
Here’s the kicker in my mind: the age for consent for sex in Maine is 14. So, I could certainly make the argument that by providing contraception for children as young as 11 (well below the legal age), the school and health department are complicit in statutory rape or sexual assault. That’s not just wrong … that’s criminal!
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• Middle School Birth Control: Too Far?
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• Birth Control Allowed at Maine Middle School
• School Board to Look at Contraceptives
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Lis Wiehl joined FOX News Channel as a legal analyst in October 2001. To read the rest of Lis's bio, click here.