Middle School Birth Control: Too Far?

"No one is ever going to call our hotline and say, 'I was sexually assaulted, or I had sex, and these are the people, and this is what happened and this is what I want to do,'" she said. "It just doesn't happen that way. ... People need to trust who they're talking to, and if they think that person is going to go to the police or the D.A., then they're just going to keep it to themselves."

And there seems to be some argument about just how clear the law really is.

Andy MacLean, a lawyer and deputy executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association, said he fields questions all the time from physicians and health care providers confused about just what to report and to whom.

"What is a healthcare provider to do if it's two 13-year-olds who are consensual and competent?" he asked. "It does sort of freak me out that that kind of thing might be happening today but I don't think most people would think that was appropriate to prosecute as a crime."

And many health care providers believe strongly that strict adherence to mandatory reporting laws will have a chilling effect on the doctor-young patient relationship and could compromise care.

"I think our members would say, with all due respect to our district attorney, that she should butt out of the physician-patient relationship," said MacLean.

Cumberland County district attorney Stephanie Anderson was unavailable for comment Friday.

Although Portland school officials have insisted that they will now follow the letter of the law, the mandatory reporting disclosures have sparked more of the polarizing debate that occurred in the days leading up to the agreement to offer the "pill" at King Middle School.

Rita Feeney has "no confidence" the school officials will now follow the law. And she reiterated her argument that offering the "pill" to the 11-to-15-year-old set is morally wrong. Feeney pointed out that because of Maine's confidentiality laws, parents might not even know if their child gets a prescription for birth control -- although students do need parental permission to use the school-based health center.

"They're usurping parental authority ... and now this. What is it going to take to get this to stop," said Feeney.

But John Coyne, chairman of the Portland School Committee, said he didn't think the votes are there to change the new "pill" policy at the King Middle School -- although he added that the committee may consider inserting "new language" in the permission slip signed by parents to "restrict the age of the students or add the word contraceptives."

Amato seemed slightly bemused by all the attention the public is now paying to the subject of teens and sexuality.

"Now it's a public dialogue, but this is stuff we deal with all the time," she said. "We all want to protect children and, of course, we want to make sure the centers and everyone else is held accountable. But there's not a lot of guidance with how to do that within the letter of the law. ... We're all just trying to do the right thing."

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