In high school, I was a pretty good daughter: straight A’s, extracurriculars, and only a few instances of misbehavior bad enough to warrant being grounded. However, like many teenagers, I was sexually active — probably earlier than my parents would have thought or wanted. My parents knew nothing about that part of my life, and I wanted to keep it that way. Mary Hasson, a speaker at this year’s Cardinal O’Conner Conference on Life, does not seem to agree with me. Hasson wrote an article called “Youth Rights and the Shrinking Power of Parents,” in which she decries a world where youth can make decisions about their own sexual health — without their parents.
According to Hasson, teens are just too young to make these kinds of decisions: Their careless and uninformed ways are a poor substitute for the sound advice of their families. She actually criticizes the fact that, in every state, teens can request confidential STI testing. She also lashes out at school health centers for providing girls with IUDs and other forms of contraception without parental notice, and she is shocked that some centers want to give emergency contraception as well.
Why are these realistic policies bad, according to Hasson? She believes that they inflict harm on the family as an institution, saying, “Significant territory already has been ceded to youth autonomy, to the detriment of young people and families alike.” Is it really detrimental for a teen to make a decision about his or her own body? In high school, I was lucky enough to have parents who I know would have supported me had something unexpected happened, although I didn’t share the intimate details of my life with them. I also had access to contraception. In Hasson’s ideal world, parental permission would be required for something as innocuous as buying condoms. Even with tolerant parents, if I had to ask my parents directly to buy condoms, would I? Probably not. Would I still have sex? Probably. I can’t even imagine how high-stakes the situation would become with less tolerant parents.
This sounds like a classic case of a teen exhibiting poor judgment, which is what Hasson is assuming to be true. But, what does she expect? Teenagers are able to show good judgment regarding their sexual health only if they are in an environment that is open to it. In many households, that is not the immediate family. And that’s okay. That’s why we have confidential testing, schools with trustworthy third-party adults, and access to contraception. Taking those things away will not stop teenagers from having sex, but it will decrease the number of teens who have safe sex. In this scenario, the health of everyone is at stake.
The pro-life movement focuses on preventing women from having abortions. Maybe it should consider creating an environment in which fewer abortions are necessary. Restricting teen access to birth control is not only unrealistic, but would also ultimately increase the number of pregnant teenagers forced to make that kind of decision. Conference on “life?” Hasson, maybe you should consider the lives of teenagers first.
Zoey Krulick (COL ’15) is the treasurer of H*yas for Choice.