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Education Reporter

Controversy Continues Over Birth Control for Middle Schoolers
The decision by the Portland School Committee to expand the King Middle School health clinic's "reproductive services" to include the provision of prescription birth control pills, patches and injections provoked a community uproar that is still resounding. At another school committee meeting on November 7, parents and others gathered to speak out on the issue. During the open forum, six people spoke against providing prescription birth control, and nine people spoke in favor. The Portland Press Herald reported that several of the speakers in favor had been brought to the meeting by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

Benjamin Meiklejohn, one of the two committee members to vote against the measure, has introduced a new resolution to allow parents more control over their children's access to birth control at school. Under this resolution, parents could withhold permission for their daughters to receive birth control prescriptions even if they allowed the girls to visit the health center. The committee must determine whether such a restriction would violate the state law that guarantees confidential medical treatment to minors. Meiklejohn's proposal would also restrict birth control prescriptions to students age 14 and older. The Portland School Committee will now consider this new proposal.

The county District Attorney, Stephanie Anderson, brought an important legal issue to the attention of those on both sides of the debate. Since it is a crime in Maine to have sex with anyone under the age of 14, school health centers should have reported any known or suspected instance of sex with a minor under that age to the Maine Department of Health and Human Services. "When it's somebody under age 14, it is a crime and it must be reported. The health care provider has no discretion in the matter," Anderson said. "Either the law is going to be enforced or it needs to be changed. I don't think a law should be routinely violated."

A national Associated Press poll in late October asked whether public schools should provide contraceptives to students. 33% of those polled opposed schools providing contraceptives to students under any circumstances. 37% thought schools should provide contraceptives only with parental consent; and 30% thought schools should provide them to all who ask, without parental consent.

Responders of differing opinions came from different demographics. Those who favored distribution without consent tended to be younger and to live in cities or suburbs. Minorities, older, and lower-income people tended to favor distribution only with consent, and white and higher-income people were more likely to oppose distribution even with consent.

The poll also asked at what age students should be able to receive contraceptives from their schools. About two-thirds of responders chose an age 16 or older.

King Middle School is not the first middle school in the nation to offer prescription birth control to students, although it is the first in Maine. In Maryland, for example, girls as young as 12 have had access to birth control pills and other prescriptions in school health clinics for the past 20 years. Three of Baltimore's 15 school health clinics, which offer birth control prescriptions, are in middle schools, and two are in K-8 schools. Overall, 80,500 girls and young women visited Maryland's 80 school health clinics seeking birth control last year, and 991 of them were under the age of 15. 10,400 were between 15 and 17 years old. Maryland, like Maine and 19 other states, legally guarantees confidential health care for adolescents.

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