Age of Consent

Posted Nov. 30, 2008, at 5:17 p.m.

Considered together, two recent news stories on two very different issues illustrate society’s growing pains. The first story reported the pending effort by a state senator to restrict teen access to birth control. The second story reported a new law taking effect in January that allows those who were adopted, and who are now 18 or older, to have access to information about their biological parents.

The birth control restriction bill, which Sen. Douglas Smith, R-Dover-Foxcroft is considering sponsoring, would require school clinics and other health care providers to notify parents or obtain their consent before providing birth control pills or other contraceptives to minors. The initiative likely was inspired by the news last year that a Portland middle school was dispensing birth control to students.

The adoption law, which was passed in 2007, allows adopted adults access to birth certificates, giving them the names of both of their birth parents. The law also provides a new form for women placing their children into adoption to indicate whether they want to be contacted by their adult biological children once they turn 18. And the law provides birth mothers with the opportunity to attach a medical history form to the birth certificate.

Driving passage of the new law was concern about access to family medical history for those who have been adopted. As adults, adoptees were at a disadvantage when struck by diseases for which they were genetically predisposed, not knowing what symptoms to be wary of, and when to seek medical attention.

Health also is at the center of the birth control for minors matter. Sen. Smith’s opposition to current state law on birth control for minors does not seem to be an attempt to force a certain morality on teens. He concedes there are situations in which parents need not be notified if birth control is being dispensed to teens. “But for intact families and responsible parents involved with every aspect of their children’s lives, this is a matter of great concern,” Sen. Smith said.

The unsealing of adoptee birth certificates changes a Maine law enacted in 1953. And this is where the two news stories intersect. Adoption held a certain stigma then that leaned toward keeping secrets; the secret was that many of the babies put up for adoption in 1953 probably were born to teen mothers, unplanned and unwanted.

The common perception is that sexual activity among teens in 1953 was not nearly as prevalent as it is today. That perception is probably accurate. But in 2008, unwanted teen pregnancy is a problem, as are sexually transmitted diseases, some of which may be prevented by using certain birth control methods. Current law allows medical practitioners the discretion to provide birth control to teens without parental notification. That discretion is held in trust, but there is no evidence to suggest it has been abused by the medical profession.

Parents are still the best sex education teachers for their children. Except when they are not. In those rare cases, health professionals need the full range of options, including dispensing birth control. Society’s views on adoption have changed over the last 50 years; its view on birth control should change, too.

http://bangordailynews.com/2008/11/30/opinion/age-of-consent/ printed on September 17, 2014