My son says that sometimes it seems there are two kinds of people in the world--kids and adults. Kids stay kids forever and adults were never kids and while I am beginning to wonder myself. The Reagan people, it seems, were never kids.
A case in point is the new regulation requiring that parents be notified if teen-agers under the age of 18 seek prescription contraceptives from federally funded clinics. The only exception to the new rule are kids whose parents are likely to beat or sexually abuse them. Otherwise, it applies to teen-agers seeking birth control pills, intrauterine devices or diaphragms.
It's obvious right off that the measure applies only to girls. They are the ones who use contraceptive measures requiring prescriptions and they are clearly the ones the sponsors of the new rule have in mind. If boys needed prescriptions to buy their contraceptive devices, this new regulation would have been hooted out of the halls of the Department of Health and Human Services before anyone could put it down on paper.
So it is the girls we are talking about and we should not be surprised. Much of the so-called social legislation being discussed in Congress is directed at women. The new contraceptive regulation coupled with attempts to limit or ban abortion are measures designed to take away from women their right to be sexually active on the same basis as men--without the consequence of an unwanted pregnancy.
It probably would do no good to ask the supporters of this and similar rules and legislation what they have against women. It might accomplish more, though, to ask them about the intent of the new regulation. President Reagan, when asked about it at his recent press conference, simply said parents had a right to know these sorts of things: "Those young people couldn't get their appendix taken out without their parents' permission."
True enough. And while sex is not an appendectomy (it feels different, Mr. President) no one disputes that in the best of all possible worlds, parents should know when their children--male or female--are sexually active. But in the best of all possible worlds, parents should not have to rely on the government (or its agent) to tell them. They should not have to insist that some hospital, some Planned Parenthood clinic that receives government funds, slip a little note in the mail.
Most parents fight like crazy for any information they can get about their children. It's a rough world out there, a world full of fast cars and booze and drugs and, of course, sex with its possible consequences--pregnancy and childbirth. Anyone can understand the desire to know as much as possible, to want the government, like some good neighbor, to pick up the equivalent of the phone and fill in some blanks.
The trouble is that it is asking the government, in particular a single program, to do too much. It is asking the program to make the choice between the desire of the parent to know and the need of the child to have contraceptive protection.
It would be fine if both aims could be meshed, but in many cases they cannot. The purpose of the contraceptive program is to cut down on the appalling rate of teen-age pregnancies with its attendant appalling toll of illegitimate children or abortions. Other programs should encourage children to open up to their parents--and the other way around as well. Yet many of the same people who urge the adoption of the new rule are opposed to sex education in the schools.
They contradict themselves so many ways it is a wonder they can walk--not to mention still talk about getting the government off our backs.
Anyone who was ever a child knows that the new rules will do nothing more than assure that some teen-agers, fearing the reaction at home, will simply not visit a clinic. Other than that, their behavior will remain the same.
There is some reason to believe that many of these kids will be poor (the ones who cannot afford to go to a private doctor) but either way, rich or poor, the results are predictable. Teen-agers who shy from letting their parents know they are sexually active will not become celibate. They will become pregnant.
Then their parents will know.