The Argument You Don’t Hear About Birth Control In Schools

Plan B given out by the nurse seems extreme, but school-based services are designed precisely for kids who don't have alternatives at home

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Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc. / Handout / AP

It was a delayed reaction, but the uproar was predictable as news spread that New York City public schools are providing free birth control pills (including Plan B, the so called morning-after pill) to teenagers without their parents’ consent. The program had been running since last year (and parents do have the right to opt out,) but timeliness and accuracy come secondary with stories that have all the ingredients for controversy and moral judgment-flinging: parental rights denied, unnecessary intrusion into the sanctity of the family; medical concerns (some factually incorrect) about the risks and mechanisms of hormonal contraception.

(MORE: New York City Offers Plan B to High School Students)

Of course, we rarely hear the reverse arguments: that pregnancy poses a huge burden on government resources; that teenagers have legal rights and protections, too; that the health risk of using birth control pills is surely outweighed by the much greater medical risks of adolescent pregnancy and childbirth; that this latest disproportionate — and even shaming — focus on the sex lives of girls over boys seems more of a piece with recent headlines about “forcible rape.”

(MORE: Why Birth Control Matters for the American Dream)

Behind the atmospherics, this is an old story: school-based health centers, the vast majority of which provide pregnancy testing, contraceptive counseling and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, numbered more than 1,300 even back in the late 1990s, and teenagers’ have seen steady gains in legal recognition of their privacy rights over the last 30 years. Currently, 21 states and D.C. allow all minors to obtain contraception without parental knowledge and another 25 states allow consent for specified categories of minors, such as those married, already pregnant or a mother, or who meet other conditions.

Granted, it seems like common sense that parents who sign permission slips for Tylenol should have the authority to make serious moral and medical decisions for their own children. Except when they shouldn’t. School-based contraceptive services are designed precisely for the kids who don’t have alternatives at home, including the one-third of American teenagers who receive no information whatsoever about pregnancy prevention.  It’s easy to make policy prescriptions based on normative scenarios; it’s the people who fall outside the norm — including kids who have no relationship with their parents, who fear them, who are sexually or physically victimized by them — who need special exceptions. The public health safety net is there for a reason: to protect the most vulnerable.

(MORE: The Good News in Teen Births Isn’t Good Enough)

We can strengthen the safety net for these at-risk kids with a better continuum of care in an environment where they feel safe. In 2006, only 5% of high schools made condoms available, while all 50 states allow minors to consent to treatment services for sexually transmitted infections. If we don’t require consent for treatment, why do we balk at consent for prevention? Interestingly, in one study, school-based health centers operating for more than a decade were twice as likely to provide contraceptive services as newer school-based health clinics. According to the authorities, parents and community members needed time to become comfortable with the health center’s mandate. Trust grew over time, and with it an expanded range of acceptable (and desired) and services. This suggests that open dialogue between schools and families is critical if we want to make a dent in bringing pregnancy rates down.

Public policy rarely comes down to black-and-white solutions; more often, we’re faced with imperfect choices from which we must pick the least sub-optimal. With or without parental consent, many feel that Plan B doesn’t “belong” in schools. But surely neither do pregnant 15-year-olds. Which one do you prefer?

MORE: What Got Lost in the Debate About Birth Control

27 comments
GinaAndreGomes
GinaAndreGomes

This subject is a very confusing one. Teens are sexually curious because of the hormonal changes going on in their bodies. Yes, God made us all that way. BUT, we are their parents, it is our duty to guide them and explain to them there is a time for it all. If we didn't do our parental job of that, what is the point of our title. We aren't here to be their best friend, they have plenty of those. We need to help our children make decisions that they alone cannot make rationally. If it is against the law for children under the legal age to have sex, then why the hell would schools, of all places, hand out contraceptives! I get that kids are going to have sex, but make them get a hold of their own contraceptives. If they want to go forward and experiment with what is suppose to be an adult engagement  (because it is statutory rape under the age of 18) let them work for it. Our time and money needs to go on better supervision for these young underage children. Not to throw our hands up and say here it is, just don't get pregnant or catch a disease. Please people it is not their time. There are always exceptions to a rule, I get that, but to make all these kids the exception is plain out dumb and that to me should be illegal. If a school employee gave my child contraceptives I would file the biggest law suit possible. What if the only escape route my child had was

"No, we can't, we don't have protection" 

And then the school supplied it and then what, 

"Go to the school nurse and get some, no one has to know" 

"Oh, OK" 

If my child's school made it that easy after all the talks and role playing my husband and I have done with our children i would come unglued. IT'S NOT THERE PLACE!!!!!!


LenSimpson
LenSimpson

Teens are going to do "whut comes natcherly" regardless. Withholding timely, meaningful education, & preventative measures merely exacerbates difficult situations. Our school systems have failed to provide students means of survival in all fields of endeavor , whether it's 

birth control or earning a living.

Ashley Elizabeth
Ashley Elizabeth

I used to believe in "Abstinence Only" education. Then I abandoned my parent's religion / conservative ideology and became scientifically literate.

Seriously, this outrage over "funding your promiscuity" is ridiculous. You can't regulate or control people's desire to reproduce any more than people's desire not survive. Our culture has decided that it's inappropriate for 13 year olds (when humans can first reproduce and start to have sexual desire) to get married. Instead, we have 15 years of sexual desire before actually getting married and we can't just turn it off until it's socially acceptable. You may think we can't reduce a person to biology -- and you're right, but discarding our biology is not a solution; it's denial. Reality shows that working with our biology (sex education) is healthier and more successful than denying it all together (abstinence only). (This applies to our love of food, too, BTW.)

I'm not funding promiscuity. I'm funding social and economic improvement. Instead of my money going to welfare for impoverished single moms (poverty is highly correlated with child out of wedlock), I can give it to schools. Instead of funding keeping criminals in prison (poverty is highly correlated with crime), I can put it into new technologies.

I used to be a conservative and then I realized that their social and economic agenda are completely at odds with each other and reality.

borisIII
borisIII

The church needs to take out everything that has to do with populating the earth more.  Now that we have modern medicine and understand cleanliness.  The earth now needs to be less populated.  And the pope is defiantly missing the message that the Catholic Church is out dated, such as that priest should not get married.  It would put an end to having to hire so many messed up priest.  Do not spill your seed upon the ground, would put all males in the looney bend.

TuSA23
TuSA23

God forbid we educated teens about sex. The best way to educate them is to avoid the subject all together. That always works!

Sofia
Sofia

 I just got paid $6784 working off my laptop this month. And if you think that's cool, my divorced friend has twin toddlers and made over $9k her first month. It feels so good making so much money when other people have to work for so much less. This is what I do, B l u e 3 1 d o t c om

 

Sofia
Sofia

 

 My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can't believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do, Blue31Dotc om

 

Sofia
Sofia

 I quit working at shoprite and now I make $35h - $80h...how? I'm working online! My work didn't exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new… after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn't be happier. Heres what I do, Blue31dotc om

Sofia
Sofia

 I quit working at shoprite and now I make $35h - $80h...how? I'm working online! My work didn't exactly make me happy so I decided to take a chance on something new… after 4 years it was so hard to quit my day job but now I couldn't be happier. Heres what I do, Blue31dotc om

akpat
akpat

The reason we are all here is because our parent got it together and made us. It is a natural instinctive thing to do and its time to realize that. Many girls were married and gave birth in their early teens just a 150 years ago so the urge is definitely there.

Now its time to realize that teen sfex is not something unnatural but is something to discourage in our present society.

However kids are going to do it, always have, and so its better they have sfex education, clinical fall back and contraception available to them cutting the risk of disease and pregnancy, something the religious fraternity see as wrong.

go south of the border and see how the heavily Catholic countries are and you will get the message.

 

worleyeoe
worleyeoe

I am all for paying higher taxes, so kids can be as promiscuous as they choose to be. While not a child, Ms. Fluke's forceful and compelling testimony before Congress earlier this year easily won me over. Likewise, a pregnant 15-year-old must be be doing a great job behaving in class and has to be making straight A's, so where do I sign up to help her abort this unwanted child and ensure her vital, free and fair education continues unabated? Does NYCPS take PayPal?

Whatnow05
Whatnow05

Always found it odd the anti abortion folks also are starchy anti BC.  You don't even have an abortion debate if the child isn't conceived in the first place! And well abstinence only teaching is clearly a pipe dream of ideology since... The beginning of time.  

The pragmatic thing to do is lay out the facts, and give access to various kinds of BC, and reduce the stigma so people can make the choice best suiting them. 

lashayjh
lashayjh

@GinaAndreGomes I understand what you are saying. From personal experience I know that making it harder to get only makes it worse. If this child wants to have sex they will with or without it. I personally was scared to talk to my parents and we have the best relationships but sex is the only thing i still will not discuss . I fell  in love NO PRESSURE to have sex but i did at the age of 15 with no protection . I was luckily enough not to have a child but i still wonder of all the one who was not that luckily. now i was a straight b student participated in sports and any extra activity possible and it still happened . would you rather have an active protected daughter or a pregnant one.

UnrepentantCarnivore
UnrepentantCarnivore

Obviously written by someone who never saw Ms. Fluke's testimony, which had nothing to do with the contraceptive uses of prescription hormones.  Most of her statement was about a fellow law student who ended up in emergency surgery because the Georgetown University bureaucracy had overruled several doctors and refused to provide medicine to control polycystic ovary syndrome.

jagorski
jagorski

Part of living in a representative democracy is giving up some of the control you have over what government does and who makes the decisions, including where your tax money goes. It isn't perfect, but if we didn't have one you have time to look at CNN during work and complain. That aside, your whining assumes that (a)  teens have all the available information regarding pregnancy and (b) teenagers living in the hormonal vortex known as adolescence make perfectly logical and mature decisions. Providing BC isn't the ultimate solution--that I agree with--but doing so alongside trying to inform students is the best we have now until we can find a more effective way to do so.

PAGster
PAGster

 The anti-abortion and anti BC are the same people because their core belief is that sex is bad and pregnancy is your punishment for having it. Abortion and birth control are, in their view, both cheating-- ways to get around the consequences that people are supposed to be suffering for having illicit sex.

Talendria
Talendria

I agree with everything you said except the part about reducing the stigma.  Children under 18 who are having sex should feel stigmatized.  They're supposed to be educating themselves so they can become productive members of society, not satisfying their hormonal urges at the taxpayers' expense.

William List
William List

I get all the monetary math. It is surely cheaper to supply the BC. However that is a dangerous argument. It is also cheaper to let people with cancer die. It is also cheaper to let old people die - they are not being productive anyway just sucking up resources. People have choices - and by giving out BC you have removed all the consequences. Of course teens choose sex with no consequences beyond a great orgasm over abstinence - duh.  Is that what we want??

Talendria
Talendria

Agreed.  Clearly it would be preferable if teenagers would just focus on their studies and resist the urge to experiment with sex (and drugs and alcohol), but since so many of them can't seem to do that we need to provide birth control.  Anything is preferable to teenaged pregnancy.

worleyeoe
worleyeoe

Let's see. Which is going to cost this theoretical teenager the most money: Birth control, abortion or raising the child. My math may be off, but it would seem to go in this order:

Raising Child >Abortion > Birth Control*

* This assumes condoms vs Plan B vs the Pill.

Likewise, here's a novel idea. Give all eight graders the following five minute sex education, followed up by as much Q/A as they can muster. Explain to them how much each of these options cost. Then tell them that their parents and them will have to pay the entire cost of the abortion or 1/2 the cost associated with having your child at the county ER, and that you will receive no public assistance until you're 18, and that upon turning 18 you'll receive a reduced benefit of 50%  for having a child before you are considered to be emancipated.

So my preference is to find a way to hold people accountable, even 15 year-olds, for their actions rather than confiscating other people's money. My bet is that if parents and teenagers understood these rules well, we'd see a dramatic jump in the use of birth control, thereby a dramatic drop in teenage pregnancies, without taxing you and me for other peoples' bad decisions.

Nate Isaac
Nate Isaac

are you idiot? children under 18 don't have to be stigmatized. We're born to have sex and  biologically we are born to have sex from about 14 years old. And it is very natural.

And having sex is nothing to do with studying, sporting.

I am from Korea. And I know a man who had sex from 15 and he entered the most prestigious university in Korea, Seoul National University. Actually, in here it is much more difficult to enter this university than Harvard. So what I want to say is that those under 18 who want sex do it. We ARE BORN To do that. It's a blessing.

Jürgen Hubert
Jürgen Hubert

 Getting to grips with their hormonal urges is _also_ a vital part of growing up - one that might even fall under the aegis of "education". So why not help them do that in a safe way?

Glen Fiddich
Glen Fiddich

 You are equating old people -- who have been born, educated, worked, were productive, have childrenof their own -- with unborn, unformed zygotes?

Get real.

Whatnow05
Whatnow05

Your math is off. You seem to think 13-17 year olds have the cognizance of adults, and pay taxes. (Assuming any have jobs 15+ some might, but that's a sliver of hair in the pool of tax revenue) 

Needless to say if many of you have forgotten between the ages of 14-18 (and really up to 22ish) You're plain dumb. This goes for everyone. We're all dumb. In which case you're going to do dumb things. 

Now then what costs the tax payer more? A kid for 18 years or BC for a few? If you think we're not going to eat the cost of a new born child in many parts of poorer america well then you're quite mistaken. (Not to mention raising that child, and the statistical cost that in many cases those children grow up, and then cost the prison system) Most child pregnancy aren't kids you'd see on Glee, or even on that abhorrent MTV show.  

So once again the most pragmatic cost effective thing to do is hand it out, and educate them. To help prevent unwanted people from being created, and having not so great lives. because well encase you haven't noticed people aren't going to stop having sex... Matter of fact even religion (Which at first vilifies it) tells you later to go forth and copulate, and produce untold numbers of spawn. 

So this is one thing I'll gladly gladly for over my tax dollars for; even if it meant someone somewhere did something not so bright. Because well later it's going to save me (us) a lot of money and headaches...or other unwitting children that create more unwitting children. 

Talendria
Talendria

Biologically we're born to starve also. Does that mean we should allow people to starve when they get knocked up at 15 and can't support their family?

Talendria
Talendria

Children need to understand that sex and drugs have the power to ruin their entire lives. Unfortunately they're hearing mixed messages from their screwed-up family and the anything-for-a-buck media about whether or not they should try it. We need to unequivocally state to these kids: If you try it, you're a ******* idiot, but here's some birth control just in case.

In addition, you're failing to calculate the opportunity cost of children having sex during their school years. Every hour these kids spend chasing tail is an hour they didn't spend studying, working, playing sports, or volunteering in the community. So even if they don't get pregnant or diseased, they're still at a disadvantage to the kids who did what they were supposed to do.

As a society we have a responsibility to condemn that behavior.