Coming from one of the most progressive states in the nation as far as sex-education and access to contraception go, at first glance it seems that legislation with a title such as this would lack the sinister contours that it has taken on in other states. But despite Maine’s razor-sharp sex-ed edge, this seemingly innocuous piece of legislation has right-wing intentions.
Liza Haberzettl over at the Maine Campus tackles it head on:
The title of the bill sounds innocent enough, but it leaves out its intention: Teens won’t be able to access prescription contraceptives unless their parents give the OK.
Proposed by Sen. Doug Smith (R), the bill is his second action taken directly in response to the scandal spurred by an unpopular (or at least popularly uncomfortable) decision made by the Portland School Committee a little more than a year ago. In a 7-2 vote, the committee gave King Middle School the go ahead to make a full range of contraception available at the school’s health center–without parental consent and to students as young as 11.
It’s interesting to note that Maine’s age of consent is 16, and in some cases, 14 if it’s between adolescents 5 years or less apart in age. King Middle School’s students are on average aged 11-13.
Not only that, but the King decision isn’t about mere condom distribution, it’s about hormonal birth control. If the patch has been shown to be dangerous for adult women, then what are it’s effects be on an 11- to 13-year-old? Not to mention that Depo Provera, shown to reduce (reversibly) bone density in adult women, actually impedes the development of sufficient bone density in young women. And if we reduce the issue to just the pill–well, I can only speak from personal experience here, but I went on the pill at 15 for my period (or at least that’s what I told my dad) and I’ll tell you right now, it made me so sick and just so emotionally wonky. So questions like, "How will this affect my daughter’s body? Her hormonal development? Her emotional state?" are questions that I believe parents of 11- to 13-year-olds have every right to ask. Sen. Smith put it well after the defeat of his first bill:
If a student cannot go to the Portland Museum of Art without a permission slip from a parent they certainly should not be getting prescription drugs wihtout parental permission.
But, as Liza suggests, the consequences of such a broad bill will invariably get in the way of older teen’s abilities to confidentially access the contraception that they need. And based Texas’s experience with a similar law, what we see in Maine might not be a pretty picture.
Texas recently implemented a similar law. The projected results are staggering: An additional 8,000 teen pregnancies, 5,000 teen births and 1,600 teen abortions annually – all due to the loss of confidentiality for teens seeking reproductive health care. I might be mistaken, but isn’t this the sort of thing we’re looking to prevent? The estimated financial cost of all this? A pretty $43.6 million.
The problem isn’t that Sen. Smith is trying to control women’s bodies, or even that he might have an over-active moral compass that makes teen sex super scary to him. It’s that his legislation has targeted too broad of a population, bringing older teens above the age of sexual consent under the same umbrella as younger ones. I think that yes, this is definitely a distinction that must be made. By legislating parental consent for the broader category of "minor," Sen. Smith puts too many consenting, knowledgeable and capable young people at risk of loosing access to hormonal birth control.
Given Maine’s 36-year leadership position on sex-ed and a "knowledge is power" attitude when it comes to teen sexuality, I think this bill will have the same fate as its predecessor (although we’ll see how far moral panic will get ’em). But it’s definitely instructive to consider how murky the waters can get when it comes to such innocently framed legislation. And given the entire national situation when it comes to sex education and teen pregnancy, it’s important to make sure bills such as this one don’t become a model for other less-than-pro-choice states where damage on the Texas-scale can be incurred.