The AP story said it all. After an outbreak of pregnancies among middle school girls, education officials in Portland, ME have decided to allow one school's health center to make birth control pills available to girls as young as 11. King Middle School will become the first middle school in Maine to make a full range of contraception available, including birth control pills, patches and condoms.
The Portland School Committee approved the plan, offered by city health officials, on a 7-2 vote last Wednesday night. By the way, only five of the 134 students who visited King's health center during the 2006-07 school year actually reported having sexual intercourse, according to the school nurse. One can only imagine what such conversations sounded like. But you can be sure those children’s parents never found out. Because--though students need parental permission to be treated there--the treatment itself is confidential under state law. Wonder how many parents signed permission slips, completely unaware that their minor children were seeking to be “treated” for the consequences of illegal sex by school officials that know more than they do about their pre-teen’s sexual practices.
Please understand, I believe in the sanctity of physician/patient confidentiality. But the school nurse/student relationship, outside of reporting physical violence, should not reflect attorney/client privilege. When students are violating the law—and community standards—by having illegal sexual intercourse, it is the nurse’s moral obligation to discourage it, and her/his legal obligation to report it.
On Thursday’s NBC Today show, the program’s “chief medical editor” weighed in that she could “see the problem from both sides of the issue…as a healthcare advocate, and a mom”…and that “I don’t think case where you can come out on either side and say this is clear-cut.” Reporter Ron Allen’s piece wrapped with the words, “the school board says that reality can no longer be ignored.”
But whose “reality” gets to carry the day? The Maine newspaper story continued, claiming that “nationally, about one-fourth of student health centers that serve at least one grade of adolescents 11 and older dispense some form of contraception” (emphasis mine). Webster’s, I discovered, defines an “adolescent” as “a juvenile between the onset of puberty and maturity.” And that’s the point. There is a gap between the time when we possess the physical ABILITY to have sex, and when we attain the MATURITY to understand its implications, before exercising that ability. That’s why society established an “age of consent.”
With apologies to NBC's medical editor, there ARE two sides to this issue, but they are “right” and “wrong.” 11 year olds do not have the right to have sex—in fact, Maine's age of consent is 16 (which is disturbingly young, already)! What King Middle School is doing is--practically--nothing short of enabling a crime. But what their actions communicate to young people is far worse: the law is meaningless. For the sake of our future, we must look beyond mere tolerance and no-fault freedom, and instead lift high the priceless prize of virtue as the attainable ideal for our nation’s children.
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