AUGUSTA — Maine has one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the country, but that could change if girls need parental permission before receiving birth control pills, state health officials say.
Rep. Adam Mack, R-Standish, is sponsoring a bill that would require parental permission for the oral contraceptive. He said the measure would give parents a greater say in health decisions that are now being made by young girls on their own. He and other supporters, including the Christian Civic League of Maine, say teen-agers may be more likely to choose abstinence if communication with their parents improved.
But critics, including state health officials, family planners and women’s groups say it will force kids to engage in unsafe sex and lead to more teen pregnancies.
“We have one of the lowest adolescent pregnancy rates in the country. Why do we need to put up barriers?” said Dr. Dora Anne Mills, director of the state Bureau of Health.
Data from various state and federal health organizations show that Maine has the third lowest teen pregnancy rate in the nation, falling behind North Dakota and Wyoming and tying Minnesota and Utah.
That low rate comes in spite of the fact that about half of Maine’s teen-age girls are sexually active. The reason: Maine also has the highest use of oral contraceptives by teens in the nation, according to George Hill of the Family Planning Association of Maine.
Hill said easy accessibility to family planning services keeps the pregnancy rate down. Under current law, minors may receive mental health, substance abuse and family planning counseling without the notification or consent of their parents. That includes the ability to obtain prescription contraceptives, abortions and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.
But Michael Heath of the Christian Civic League said he would like to take Mack’s bill even further. Teen-agers should be required to obtain parental permission for all of those services and not only for birth control, he said.
“The real issue is the confidential relationship between a counselor and a minor. We’ve got to look at what’s going on in that transaction,” he said.
We want to make sure that the medical community doesn’t act on the side of permissiveness without involving the parent.”
Parental permission should also be required for over-the-counter purchases of contraceptives such as condoms, he said, which would force teen-age boys to talk to their parents as well.
Critics say the plan would backfire.
“I’m trying hard to understand why anyone working so hard to prevent abortion is fighting contraception,” said Sara Hayes, a veteran nurse practitioner with Tri-County Health Services in Auburn.
Hayes’ office sees more than 600 teen-agers a year. Only about 5 percent bring their parents. Most have already engaged in unprotected sex. Many think they are pregnant.
“Rare is the client who says `I haven’t had sex and I want to know what my options are,”‘ she said.
She recalls giving one girl a prescription for birth control pills only to see her again, pregnant, several months later. Her mother had found her pills and thrown them away.
“You cannot legislate family values. You cannot legislate morality,” Hayes said.