Contraception and Control - Teenage Rights

Megan argues that teenagers deserve the same control over their bodies and rights to contraception as any other women - without having to go through their parents.

Megan, 1 June 2004

Emergency Contraception has always been a thorny subject, and one that is guaranteed to get people talking. This is the case even more so when it comes to allowing teenagers to have access to it, because it raises one of the issues we are still very much in debate over in Britain: just how much control should teenagers be allowed to have over their lives?

The Board of Governors at my school has recently voted to allow all teenage girls access to the Morning After Emergency Contraception pill. Girls will have to visit the school health worker, and explain their need for the pill. The health worker will then ask the girl a series of questions to determine whether this type of contraception is suitable for them, and then give them full instructions about how to use it.

Many parents feel that they have the right to know. But do they?

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of this is that unless given permission to do so by the girl, or asked to do so by her GP, the health worker does not have to inform teachers or even parents of the situation. While some will agree this is a basic confidentiality issue, many parents feel that they have the right to know. But do they?

I must point out at this point that my school does have an above average sex education policy. In year 10, pupils are given a "C Card", which allows them free access to condoms in any clinic or pharmacy, and the emotional as well as the physical aspects of sex are discussed. Everyone is made aware of law in relation to underage sex, but the school says that it is imperative that teenagers are given access to emergency contraception even if they are having under age sex.

At the end of the day, it all comes back to one basic point that many parents do not seem to understand. Teenagers will experiment, and some of them will have underage sex. Short of keeping them locked up all day everyday, you cannot change that. Not all teenagers will, but some do. So what we have to do it to make sure that if they are having sex, they are having safe sex, and that if they do make a mistake they have the means to deal with it responsibly. And although parents may like to think they would, quite a lot of teenagers just aren't going to tell their parents they are having sex - aside from anything else they don't feel it's any of their business.

Surely it is better to give teenage girls the means to end any risk of pregnancy quickly

Surely it is better to give teenage girls the means to end any risk of pregnancy quickly instead of having to choose between abortion and childbirth - and having to go through with either option. Parents don't have any rights to know whether their child is in labour or having an abortion either - primarily because the law looks upon the reproductive system of any girl to be her own and nothing to do with her parents. And I have to say I think that is the correct viewpoint. I put this question to all parents who have a problem with the availability of Emergency Contraception - would you rather your daughter was given contraception without your knowledge, or went through the trauma of having an abortion without your knowledge?

I do not mean to paint a picture of parents as evil authority figures - many teenagers are lucky enough to have a great relationship with their parents where they would feel able to tell them anything. Many, however, do not. These years are a time for growing up, becoming independent, and generally distancing yourself from your parents. So it is important that those that do not feel comfortable telling their parents can still have access to the information and resources that they need.

Another major debate point is that more teenagers will have sex if they know they have an "escape route" by means of emergency contraception. This simply is not the case. Making contraception and information readily available gives teenagers the information and resources they need to make an informed decision about sex. And emergency contraception should be available for the circumstances under which it may be necessary.

I strongly believe that teenagers should have the same rights and control over their bodies as any other women

Perhaps, being a teenager myself, I am biased towards our rights. But I strongly believe that teenagers should have the same rights and control over their bodies as any other women. We are not all reckless and irresponsible, in fact only a small minority of teenage girls are regularly having sex. But we all make mistakes, and in my view it is imperative that we should have to right to make these kinds of decisions without our parents having to become involved. We are probably smarter than you think, and we generally do know what we want. We just need to be able to get it. And while I understand the concerns of parents, no matter what our age and as long as our health is not in serious danger, we do have the same rights to confidentiality as an adult, and we need to have complete faith in this confidentiality. We need to know that we have the right.

About the author

Megan

Megan is a British teenager who is a keen feminist with many political views. She frequently annoys and amuses her friends by making these views heard whenever possible. She would love to hear your thoughts on this article, so please do not hesitate to send your thoughts, opinions or corrections.

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