Excerpts From Prelates' Policy Statement

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Following are excerpts from the 26-page policy statement adopted last week by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops on the subject of school-based clinics that provide family-planning services.

Questions of PrincipleThe Human Dignityof Young People

... A school-based program for providing contraceptives to unmarried teen-agers fails to respect teen-agers themselves, because it takes a promiscuous lifestyle for granted and resorts to the deception that premarital sexual activity is without adverse consequences so long as pregnancy is avoided.

This message makes light of the serious medical, emotional, moral, and spiritual consequences of premature sexual experimentation. Teen-agers are taught to deal with their sexuality by suppressing their fertility with drugs and devices, instead of learning the self-control needed to live in harmony with the precious gift of sexuality and its power to create new life. ...

A school-based clinic for providing contraceptives to unmarried teen-agers contributes to the illusion that it is always possible to have sexual intercourse without being prepared to assume the responsibility of parenthood. It does teen-agers a disservice by deceiving them about the physical and emotional realities of sexual intimacy and by failing to teach them the highest standards of responsibility.

... Moreover, by facilitating abortion as a last resort for resolving contraceptive failure, they create a further incentive to irresponsible sexual behavior.

The Rights of Parents

... The threat posed to parents' rights by school-based contraceptive clinics seems evident, since one reason for locating these clinics in schools is to gain access to teen-agers without their parents' involvement.

Although many clinics provide for some form of parental consultation, this often consists of a signature approving unlimited clinic visits of an unspecified nature for an entire school year or even for an entire term of study. Confidentiality is invoked to bar parents from reviewing their children's records and from learning of specific visits, services, or prescriptions. ...

Mindful that millions of Catholic parents have children in the public schools, we particularly object to contraceptive programs which undermine the moral and religious values that parents try to impart to their children. ...

The Role of the School

... School-based contraceptive clinics pose a threat to the public-school system because they render the schools more controversial, divert them from their traditional role of imparting knowledge and building character, and raise new problems of legal liability.

To the extent that schools become involved in providing or prescribing contraceptives, their admonitions to "say no" to irresponsible and destructive behavior will be drained of moral authority, and the schools will lose the effectiveness they might have had in helping parents to impart healthy values to their children.

The Question ofEffectiveness

... It is now well established that knowledge of and access to contraceptives do not ensure prevention of pregnancy among teen-agers. ...

Even as a short-term solution to teen pregnancy, then, school-based contraceptive services have not been shown to deliver what they promise. They will certainly fail as a long-term solution, because they ignore the root causes of the teen-pregnancy problem and fail to mobilize the inner resources of teen-agers, parents, and teachers to address those causes in a responsible manner.

Meeting Health-CareNeeds

... We believe basic health care must be improved for all low-income Americans, especially for the very young and the very old who are most vulnerable, and not only for the school-age population. Among teen-agers, those most in need of improved care may be those who have already dropped out of school.

Also needed is more adequate funding of existing local, state, and federal health-care programs such as wic [Women, Infants, and Children program] and Medicaid; without adequate funding, improved access to clinics will mean little. In a given case, the establishment of a new clinic in a public school may actually divert funds from more cost-effective initiatives.

Furthermore, the most serious threats to the life and health of our nation's students are not primarily "health care" problems in a narrow sense. They involve self-destructive behavior patterns associated with problems of attitude and character, frequently aggravated by oppressive poverty and by a real or perceived lack of meaningful opportunities for the future.

The most prominent killers of teen-agers today are drugs and alcohol, automobile accidents, homicide, and suicide. Schools and other institutions must work with parents to combat these threats, but that response may not lie primarily in the area of medical practice.

... In short, school-based health clinics--not contraceptive clinics--may be a partial solution to the health needs of young people. This is a complex issue which may be resolved differently in different areas depending on local social and economic factors and the kinds of services offered. But any legitimate role such clinics might play in providing health services will be undermined by inclusion of contraception and abortion-related services.


A Positive Approach

... What is needed is something quite radical, in the original sense of that word: an approach that rejects mere alleviation of superficial symptoms and reaches the root of the problem. This approach must have at least four components.

First, schools must be encouraged to do their job of imparting basic knowledge and skills. If part of the teen-pregnancy problem is a lack of discipline and maturity among young people, schools can contribute to a solution by teaching responsible habits of thinking and living. Campaigns to persuade young people to delay sexual activity and childbearing are more likely to touch a responsive chord if students have skills which they feel will help them play a significant role in society after they leave school. ...

Second, young people need reasons for hope. They will have little motivation to develop the character and skills needed to plan for the future unless they can see for themselves that is worth the effort. Making that future possible requires more than education and counseling--it requires a concerted effort to change the social and economic circumstances that make a productive future seem a fantasy beyond the reach of so many of our nation's young people.

In many low-income areas this means addressing the hopelessness and fatalism that often result from circumstances of oppressive poverty. Genuine opportunities for further education and employment, for participation in community life, and for stable family life must be offered to students as real and achievable. ...

Improved health care is necessarily part of such a program for enhancing opportunities for young people. Among the immediate needs in this area are health benefits for the 37 million Americans who lack health insurance, and expanded funding for welfare programs combined with reforms to end discrimination in these programs against intact families.

Priority should be given to improved prenatal care and other support for teen-agers who do become pregnant, because this can alleviate some of the problems for mother and child which have sometimes wrongly been attributed to teen-age childbearing as such.

Third, the adults who shape teen-agers' environment outside the school must commit themselves to support the value of chastity and marital commitment. ...

Finally, within the supportive context of these educational, economic, and social initiatives, programs of education in human sexuality which respect parental rights and the need for moral responsibility can have a significant impact on young people's lives. Such programs should emphasize the same kind of self-discipline and personal responsibility in the area of sexuality that are already exemplified in traditional educational programs as well as in current programs dealing with such matters as drug and alcohol abuse. ...

Policy Implications

...The provision of contraceptive and abortion services through school-based clinics is morally objectionable, and is open to question even on practical grounds as a response to the problem of teen-age pregnancy. Federal and state laws as well as local school-board policies should be amended to exclude such services from the public schools. Because so many of these decisions are made at the local level, we urge Catholics to work effectively with other concerned taxpayers in their local communities to promote a morally responsible approach to this issue.

School-based health clinics that clearly separate themselves from the agenda of contraceptive advocates may provide part of an effective response to the health needs of young people. This question deserves discussion on its own merits and may legitimately be answered differently in different areas of the country.

A comprehensive response to the problem of teen-age sexual activity and pregnancy must include efforts to strengthen the traditional character-forming task of the schools, to improve social and economic opportunities for young people in low-income areas, to support parents in their difficult task of passing on healthy values to their children, and to establish programs of education promoting the values of chastity and fidelity.

Vol. 07, Issue 12

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