A controversial scheme allowing girls as young as 13 to obtain the contraceptive pill from pharmacies is being piloted on the Isle of Wight. The girls will be able to obtain the morning-after-pill and a single month’s supply of contraceptive pill from one of ten pharmacies from around the island. After that month is up, the girl must get a prescription from either their GP or family planning nurse, to obtain any further supplies (those of us who take the pill, or have taken it in the past, know that G.P. s must carry out regular blood pressure checks on patients who take the pill and to make sure that the one they take is not having any undue side-effects). This single month’s supply is accompanied by information on support networks to be used in the future.
Acknowledging that the age of consent for girls in this country is 16, we must also acknowledge the girls who are active before this time. Why are they less entitled to a say over their own bodies than the rest of us? This move will mean that they are protected from at least the life altering event of having a baby too soon. It is not the ability to obtain reliable contraception that will unalterably affect them. Surely it is better to prevent the pregnancy of a young girl in the first place, than to end up with her pregnant, and having to chose between adoption, keeping the baby, or abortion? Anybody can think that cure is better than prevention, but I would suggest that they rethink that, before pressing it on the rest of us.
However, church and campaign groups have called the move “irresponsible”.
What strikes me most is the tiresome repetition of nay-sayers who are making ill-thought knee jerk reactions against a move which could actually make a real difference on the number of unwanted teen pregnancies. This is not a move that will instantaneously prompt the non-sexually active girls to become active, but instead protect the girls who already are active. When the pill was first invented, only married women were permitted to use it. Since then it has become a tool of liberation for women as we now have the legal ability to reliably control our fertility, without reservation on age (after 16) or marital status and this is something western women should celebrate.
Jennifer Smith, from the Isle of Wight NHS Primary Care Trust, said: “They are already sexually active, we haven’t encouraged them to be sexually active.”
I am a mother, and though I have a only one and even then a son, (we hope to have a girl next) my husband and I have often discussed how we should be no less strict with our son in these matters than with any girls we have. Twelve and thirteen is about the age when girls begin their periods and become fertile. It is no more responsible to deprive them of the options to control that fertility than it is to information or by trying to promote the abstinence-only form of ‘contraception’ preached by many. This ‘method’ has been proven not only not to work, but to actively exacerbate the problem by making sex something forbidden and dangerous and thus attractive to teenagers. It also makes them less likely to feel as if they can turn anywhere for reliable advice. As parents, my husband and I are generally in favour of openly discussing these matters with our child(ren) on the general principal if they are old enough to ask us (mummy, where do babies come from?), then they are old enough to know the facts according to their ability to comprehend them but those facts need to be up dated accordingly. It’s not a case of having one single ‘talk’ when you feel like your teenager should be showing an interest in the other gender (isn’t that just lazy parenting?) and this is not an encouragement for them to go out and start behaving like horny bunnies, but an aim to equip our child(ren) with the information and legal abilities they will need in order to make safe, and informed, choices.
The Reverend Anthony Glaysher, from the Catholic diocese of Portsmouth, said it “fundamentally attacked the family”.
The the good Reverend, I would say, what attacks ‘the family’ is a rigid and intolerant view against anything, that damn book tells you is ‘bad’. It is not the ability to obtain contraception, that attacks ‘the family’, it is ridiculous notions that preventing women and girls from deciding whether to have a baby or not protects it, and stopping an unwanted pregnancy before it starts is somehow ‘evil’.
The Conservative MP for the Isle of Wight, Andrew Turner, asked: “How can adults bring up their children if their children can go into a shop, more or less, and be handed over something which is so significant?
“I will be making my concern clear to the people who run the health service and they’ve got to understand that many people feel the same.”
What is needed is not a case of either ‘parenting’ or ‘pill’, but a combination of the two. Not all parents are open or willing to discuss sex with their children which risks leaving girls uninformed and that is what makes them vulnerable. My mother was willing to discuss ‘options’ and I was lucky enough to know that I could talk to her about it. My father was not despite how close I am to him but my parents are very much products of their generation so you cannot just rely on all parents to 1) be as open as me and my husband, and 2) educate their children on this without imposing religious bias on the issues. Those children have a right to know their all of their options and a right to legally protect themselves. Keeping the pill out of reach of the girls who are already sexually active is not going to stop them from being sexually active. The fact that they already are active proves that point. I would definitely recommend counselling for them but I would not for one moment deprive them of the power of veto over their own bodies.
“Before the legalization of the birth control pill, women and doctors could find themselves in deep trouble with the law if they obtained the hormones for pregnancy prevention. Even discussing ways to prevent pregnancy landed, more than a few in jails…Today, the Catholic Church still prohibits the use of The Pill and other contraceptives, but I have a feeling there are not so many taking the prohibition so seriously.“