On Tuesday, December 2 the Family Planning Association of Maine held the first of seven community forums to garner support to protect state law that permits minors to access contraception without parental consent. The forums are a part of the HEART of ME: Healthy, Empowered, and Responsible Teens of Maine campaign that the organization has developed to combat a possible attempt to change the current law.[i] Senator Douglas Smith (R-Dover-Foxcroft) plans to submit legislation for the state’s upcoming legislative session that would require minors to receive parental consent for access to birth control pills and other prescription contraceptives.[ii]
The current Maine law, which was first passed in 1973, allows minors to receive prescriptions for birth control pills, patches, injections, and intrauterine contraceptives without parental notification or consent. Minors also do not need parental consent to receive emergency contraception, pregnancy testing, or testing for sexually transmitted diseases, among other reproductive health care services.[iii]
Controversy over the longstanding state law first began in 2007 when the Portland School Committee voted to expand the reproductive health care services offered at King Middle School to include contraceptives. The Maine Family Policy Council, a conservative, faith-based group formerly called the Christian Civic League of Maine, responded to the vote by calling for an investigation of “illegal sexual activity” among students at the middle school. The group also collected signatures in an effort to recall members of the Portland school board.[iv] The group is supportive of a parental consent law and has already voiced its readiness to rally support for the bill’s passage. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland and the Jeremiah Project are also supportive of parental notification legislation.
The Family Planning Association of Maine argues that prohibiting minors from accessing birth control without parental consent would negatively impact their reproductive health and safety. “Eighty percent of teens who are sexually active would not seek assistance if parents had to be involved,” said Dr. Connie Adler, chair of the HEART of ME Campaign. In fact, research conducted by the American Medical Association’s Council of Scientific Affairs found that less than 20% of would “seek access to birth control” if they had to notify their parents.[v] “The data is clear that young people will stop using birth control if they have to inform their parents,” stated Sue McPhee, vice president of external relations and development for the Family Planning Association of Maine. The research also reveals that “mandatory parental consent laws fail to persuade minor children to share their health concerns with parents.” In addition to the possible health risks such a law could create, reproductive health advocates also point out that requiring minors to notify their parents in order to access contraception could jeopardize their safety in the home.
The HEART of ME campaign asserts that communication between parents and children about sex is crucial; and states that it is not realistic to believe that teens are not sexually active. “You can talk about abstinence [to your kids] and you should, but our kids are sexually saturated. Oftentimes we don’t bring it up because it’s hard,” said Linda Ross, a parent advocate for the campaign.[vi]
“We all agree that parents and teens should talk about sexuality. But restricting teens’ access to reproductive health care won’t facilitate such conversations—it will instead result in teens who are less safe and less healthy,” said Kate Brogan, vice president for public affairs of the Family Planning Association of Maine. “The HEART of ME campaign advocates for more frequent and more effective family communication on reproductive health issues. At the same time, we must ensure that Maine law continues to protect a minor’s right to access comprehensive health care and information without parental consent,” continued Brogan. “The policy behind Maine’s privacy law for minors is clear and its benefits are undisputed. This is not a theoretical question—it is a potential health crisis for sexually active teens,” Brogan concluded.
Maine currently has one of the country’s lowest teen birth rates with a rate of 24.4 per 1,000 teens compared to the national average of 40.5 per 1,000.[vii] In addition, Maine’s sexuality education law is one of the most comprehensive in the country and mandates that “comprehensive family life education” must be taught in kindergarten through twelfth grade.
[i] HEART of ME: Healthy, Empowered, and Responsible Teens of Maine campaign is a nonprofit, nonpartisan initiative supported by private donations, the Sam L. Cohen Foundation, the Frances Hollis Brain Foundation, and the Parking Lot Giving Fund of RSF Social Finance. The HEART of ME Steering Committee is made up of youth, parents, health care providers and opinion leaders from all corners of the state who are investing their time and energies to improve the health of Maine teens and to defeat the efforts of those who would endanger young people who need access to confidential care.
[ii] Eric Russell, “Battle Looms on Access to Birth Control,” Bangor Daily News, 3 December 2008, accessed 10 December 2008, <http://www.bangornews.com/detail/94432.html>.
[iii] Meg Haskell, “Birth Control for Minors Scrutinized,” Bangor Daily News, 26 November 2008, accessed 10 December 2008, <http://bangornews.com/detail/94010.html>.
[v] Information provided by Sue McPhee on 7 January, 2009.
[vi] Eric Russell, “Battle Looms on Access to Birth Control.”
[vii] “Teen Birth Rate per 1,000 Population Ages 15-19, 2005,” Kaiser Family Foundation State Health Facts, accessed 10 December 2008, <http://www.statehealthfacts.org/comparemaptable.jsp?ind=37&cat=2>.