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NPR's Madeleine Brand speaks with a supporter of birth control at King Middle School

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School Board OKs Birth Control for Middle Schoolers


NPR's Madeleine Brand speaks with a supporter of birth control at King Middle School

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From the studios on NPR West, this is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Cohen.


I'm Madeleine Brand.

There are a number of stories concerning public health that are making headlines across the country today.

Coming up, injection stations - those are places where drug users can shoot up heroin, cocaine, morphine, anything, without being arrested. And today the city of San Francisco is considering that idea.

COHEN: But first we go to Portland, Maine, where King Middle School will be the first middle school in the state and among just a few in the nation to offer birth control to its students. The students at King are between 11 and 13 years old. The Portland School Committee approved the plan by a vote of 7-2 yesterday.

BRAND: Joining us now is Lori Gramlich. She's on the Portland School Committee, one of the seven members who voted in favor of making birth control available to the students.

Welcome at the program.

Ms. LORI GRAMLICH (Member, Portland School Committee): Thank you so much.

BRAND: Was it hard for you to make this decision?

Ms. GRAMLICH: Frankly, yes, it was. I struggled with it quite a bit because I am the parent of a 14-year-old girl who just completed middle school. She's now a freshman at our - one of our public high schools. And I struggled with the piece that talks about our main state law regarding confidentiality and reproductive health services. When one seeks reproductive health care services, it is confidential. And I, without my daughter's permission, may not be privy to that information. So I really personally struggled with it.

BRAND: So basically just to update the listeners a bit, students can go to the health center, but only with parental permission. But they don't have to tell their parents why are they going.

Ms. GRAMLICH: That is right.

BRAND: Why did you decide eventually to support the plan to provide birth control to girls?

Ms. GRAMLICH: Well, I had a very long and deliberate conversation with my daughter because I don't want to be naïve in thinking that our young people aren't having intercourse, because we know they are. And so, you know, being the mom, that's not the kind of conversation your 14-year-old daughter wants to have with you. And - or at least not mine, with me. And so I asked her very - you know, kind of very pointedly, are there kids in middle school having sex? She said, you know, mom, there are. They're not really 11-year-olds or 6th or 7th graders. But she said I know 8th graders who have. She said, not that I would ever do that, but I know 8th graders do have. But I said, what do you think about telling their mom or dad? And she said, mom, let's be realistic. There's no way that a kid will get services if they had to tell their mom or dad.

So I mean, I guess kind of what brought me to the conclusion of voting for this was that if we can do whatever we can to prevent one teen pregnancy, then I think we've - we've done our job.

BRAND: And in fact, Portland's three middle schools have reported 17 pregnancies in the last four years.

Ms. GRAMLICH: That is right. There have been 17 that we know of.

BRAND: So there is evidence right there that sexual activity is happening.

Ms. GRAMLICH: There is evidence.

BRAND: But did you at all worry - some people say that the school board is now condoning sexual activity among middle schoolers by providing birth control. Did you worry about that, you might be saying, you know, it's okay?

Ms. GRAMLICH: You know, we did hear a lot of that public comments that, you know, this is the kind of thing that needs to be taught at home and there are a lot of people that talked about morals and values and I don't frankly quite see it that way.

Certainly - certainly, we want to assure abstinence. And those are the kinds of very candid conversations I have with my 14-year-old. I tell her the only birth control that is a hundred percent effective is abstinence, plain and simple. So of course that's the message that we want to give to our young people. Understanding that that message is not going to resonate with all of our young people and they're going to engage in sexual activity anyway, I think it's important that we give them what they need to protect themselves. Is that the first option? Absolutely not.

BRAND: Well, Ms. Gramlich, thanks for speaking with us today.

Ms. GRAMLICH: You're very welcome. Thank you for having me.

BRAND: That's Lori Gramlich. She's on the Portland School Committee, who voted last night in favor of making birth control available to King Middle School students.

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