The governing body for high school sports in Florida voted to remove questions about athletes’ menstrual history from its medical forms. The forms, which contained questions including “when was your most recent menstrual period?” and “how many periods have you had in the past year?,” caused outrage and a debate over students’ right to privacy.
The questions were previously optional, but the governing body recently proposed making them mandatory. The decision was particularly controversial in the wake of the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, Florida’s tighter restrictions on abortion and the introduction of new state legislation on transgender athletes.
The forms were first brought to public attention by the Palm Beach Post, which reported in October that many registration forms had been moved online, leaving parents worried about potential threats to privacy.
The annual medical form issued by the Florida High School Athletic Association, which students have to complete before taking part in school sports, included questions about genetic heart conditions, ongoing medical issues and dietary requirements. But it also asked female students questions about their periods, including when they began menstruating and the average length of their cycle.
FHSAA officials said the questions had been on the form for at least two decades, according to the Associated Press. But, amid controversy over the forms, an advisory committee proposed a revision to make four questions on menstruation obligatory, sparking even more furor.
Letters read during an online meeting to discuss the changes described the questions on students’ menstrual history as “invasive,” while others linked it to a recent law signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), which bans transgender girls and women from participating in female sports at public schools and colleges.
A group of Democratic lawmakers in the state wrote to the FHSAA’s president and board of directors, arguing that inquiries into female students’ menstrual cycles undermined their right to privacy — both because of the nature of the questions and because of concerns that nonmedical staff would be able to access the records held by schools.
“These new reporting requirements would be highly invasive and no girl should be forced to disclose her bodily functions to someone who is not her mother, father, caretaker, or physician” the letter, dated Feb. 7, read. “There is absolutely no reason for the FHSAA to collect such private information and no reason why the schools need it.”
Sensitivity over the collection of menstrual data has heightened following the overturning of Roe last year, amid concerns that such information could be used to identify and prosecute women seeking abortions. Florida law prohibits most abortions after 15 weeks, but DeSantis has indicated that he would back proposals to lower the limit to six weeks.
The association’s spokesperson denied any link between the proposal to make the questions mandatory and the participation of transgender athletes, the AP reported.
At an emergency meeting on Thursday, the FHSAA voted 14-2 to pass a motion to remove all questions about an athlete’s menstrual health from the forms. The new forms, however, will now require students to provide the biological sex they were assigned at birth. Previously, the forms simply asked for their sex.
Under the changes, which will be used for the 2023-24 school year, schools will also no longer have access to students’ full medical histories. Instead, the new version will contain a detailed three-page medical form to be held by parents or the health care provider carrying out the examination, with a separate page confirming the student’s eligibility to take part in sports returned to schools.
Under Florida law, high school athletes are not able to take part in training or competitions without first completing a preparticipation health evaluation, with exemptions only granted for religious objections. Many other states either ask or require female athletes to answer questions about their menstrual history, according to the Associated Press
The American Academy of Pediatrics does mention the importance of questions about menstrual cycles as an indication of health, and in particular in screening for the so-called “triad” of medical issues — inadequate food intake, menstrual issues and weak bones — often seen in competitive female athletes.
However, the chair-elect of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Council on Sports Medicine & Fitness told the Associated Press that the council did not recommend that personal medical information be provided to or held by schools. The national eligibility form designed by the academy specifically says that an athlete’s medical file should not be shared with their school, the Palm Beach Post reported.