To some, the idea of middle schoolers taking birth control is simply shocking. But according to school administrators in Portland, Maine, it is an idea that is simply necessary. The school committee there plans to make birth control available to students at the King Middle School's health center.
"I see students every day whose lives could be ruined by an unwanted pregnancy who are having sexual intercourse and who need protection," said Amanda Rowe, school nurse coordinator of the Portland Public Schools. "They're not going to get it anywhere else."
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Children do need parental consent to visit the health center at the King School, but state law in Maine says the treatment is confidential. That means kids as young as 11 could get the pill without their parents ever knowing.
"This is really a violation of the parents' rights," Peter Doyle said at the Portland school committee meeting on the subject.
Of 134 students to visit the King School's health center last year, just five reported being sexually active. But even those small numbers have consequences.
Over the last four years, Portland's three middle schools reported 17 pregnancies. Nationwide, one study showed more than 17,000 pregnancies for girls 14 or younger.
"We have to, in some cases, protect kids from risky behavior, that in some cases they are not talking to their parents about," King Middle School principal Mike McCarthy said.
And not all parents think this is a bad idea.
"I'd rather see a health center here and a kid be able to get birth control in a health center than see a pregnant 12-year-old," parent Gail Kesich said.
Still, only a few cities, including Seattle and Baltimore, offer birth control in middle school.
And while parents debate the issue, 12-year-old Eliza Lambert has already made her decision.
"I think it's important for those who need them to be able to get them, but for those who don't I don't think they should be forced to carry them around," she said.
Lambert said she isn't about to ask for birth control, even though she now has the right to.
And for all the national buzz this story is getting, the school committee meeting had a meager turnout, just 28 people showed up when budget meetings in Portland often draw more than 100 people. Principal McCarthy said he has heard few complaints from residents of Portland. Most of the the disapproving e-mails, he said, are coming from elsewhere around the country.
"They are why God made the delete key," he said.