Bitter Pill: School Board OKs Birth Control for Middle School

A Maine community finds itself at the center of a national debate.

ByABC News
February 18, 2009, 3:47 PM

Oct. 18, 2007 — -- In the end, it wasn't even close. The Portland School Committee voted 7 to 2 last night to allow the health center at the King Middle School in Portland, Maine, to offer birth control prescriptions to its students, who range in age from 10 to 15. Dr. Pat Patterson, the medical director of School-Based Health Services in Portland said she was "thrilled" with the vote. "The past few days have been very distressing and very difficult for the school. People have been really charged up against us. But I'm happy with the vote."

"Charged up" may be an understatement. The storm started brewing in Portland and across the country shortly after the proposal was announced. And last night, tensions boiled over at the school committee hearing held at a local Portland High School.

Proponents of the proposal tacked up black-and-white posters of a baby, contrasting the cost of raising a child with the cost of birth control, while several opponents bowed their heads in prayer. National and local media jostled for positions at the front of the room.

The possibility that young teens could be getting birth control at school incensed resident Diane Miller. "We are dealing with children ... the ramifications are mind boggling to me. How could we even be considering this?" After she spoke at the hearing, Miller sat down and closed her eyes. "I was praying. My heart just aches over this," said Miller.

Mary Ibrahim, another Portland resident, said that just because kids may be having sex doesn't mean they should be having sex. And offering birth control services is a form of encouragement. "Let's be leaders. Let's be parents. Let's be grownups," said Ibrahim.

And Peter Doyle, a former middle-school math teacher now living in Portland, argued that the privacy component "is really a violation of parents' rights."

But there were just as many vocal proponents of the measure. The father of a King Middle School student stood up and said, "I recognize the value of parental involvement. But not every child is getting that parental involvement. If, for some reason, my daughter couldn't come to me, I would want to make sure that she had someone she trusts and that she could get care."