October 16, 2021
Column

The facts we must not avoid

Life in a household with children, especially teenagers, is a life full of resistance – resistance and response to resistance. It’s a pull-or-be-pulled world with a lot of give and take and it sometimes results in a pulled muscle or two. Sort of like politics. Or marriage. And sort of like the ongoing debate about the rights of kids to have access to birth control without their parents’ consent.

This debate is not a lot of fun. In order to have it we must acknowledge that there’s a real possibility that our kids are having sex. And yes, I’m one of those moms who would just as soon squeeze her eyes shut tight and never, ever think about that.

Thank God I’m not in charge of the Family Planning Association of Maine, which is leading a charge against a possible challenge to the decades-old state law that gives those confidentiality rights to kids.

Sen. Doug Smith, a Republican from Dover-Foxcroft, is indicating that he may submit a bill to the Legislature that would require parental consent before health care providers could prescribe birth control to teens under the age of 18.

Kids have quietly been able to get birth control and confidential sexual health care since the mid-1970s. Last fall, however, the Portland School Committee voted to make a full range of contraception available not just to high school students but to middle school students as well.

Pandora’s box subsequently opened and soon conservative talk show hosts across the country were alleging that Maine schools were offering up birth control to all 11-year-olds who wanted it, therefore encouraging 11-year-olds to start having sexual intercourse.

Now with the new Legislature all sworn in and prepared to begin what is sure to be a gut-wrenching session on so many levels, it is a decent bet that this issue will make itself to the halls of the State House.

It’s a good thing that the Family Planning Association of Maine is being proactive and holding several community sessions about access to birth control. They held one in Bangor on Tuesday.

Because one thing is for sure, whether it’s parenting, politics or marriage: The things that are the most difficult and disturbing to talk about are exactly the things that need talking about the most.

There has been a lot of media attention paid to this challenge that Sen. Smith may or may not make. The Christian Civic League, which now for some reason calls itself the Maine Family Policy Council, and the Roman Catholic Diocese have suggested they would pledge their support to Smith’s bill should he submit it.

Each can be a powerful force in Augusta lobbying circles.

In my opinion, the reality is that these groups, along with Sen. Smith, will have a very steep climb up the stairs to the State House. There will be much debate, big headlines and impassioned speeches on both sides. In the end, I have to believe that Maine children still will have the ability to have confidential conversations with their health care providers, whether at school or not, and that those children still will have access to birth control with or without their parents’ knowledge.

There’s a Democrat in the Blaine House and a Democratically controlled Legislature. Those waging the battle on the pro-access side have been fighting this battle for years and they are really, really good at it. The fact remains that not that long ago Maine had one of the highest teen birth rates in the country and now we have the fifth lowest. That’s a hard one to argue against.

But that being said, this is a time when perhaps all of the hoopla has been a good thing. Access to birth control for kids is an important and emotional issue. So is the sexual health of our teens. So is abortion.

They are rights that have been fought long and hard for and they’ve met with a lot of resistance along the way. The battles may be waged more quietly at times, but they are always there simmering and all it takes is a spark, or in this case, a school board meeting, to set the pot to boiling. But that’s OK, because, as they say, complacency is a great foundation for failure and it takes a little resistance to make any house stronger.

reneeordway@gmail.com


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