Once again, a liberal promoting the Democrat education agenda has asserted that “[t]he children,” as in yours and mine, “belong to all of us.” This time it was Professor Paul Reville, former Massachusetts Secretary of Education, who recently defended the controversial Common Core Curriculum with an appeal to shared concern for “our” children. Awhile back, it was MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry who urged more education spending because “kids belong to whole communities,” not to their parents.
Such talk raises the hackles—and the suspicions—of conservatives. They see progressives as hell-bent on an agenda to restructure the American family. And they worry that liberal activists will mold the next generation in tolerance, autonomy, and moral relativism, while teaching them to reject parental authority and religious values.
There’s reason to worry.
But the real threat comes not from pundits and their puffery over ‘who owns the kids,’ but from the Trojan horse of ‘youth rights’—an agenda that’s already influencing schools, medical care, and the law. Under the guise of promoting children’s “rights” to make their own choices, progressives are relentlessly fencing parents out of the crucial, value-laden decisions in their children’s lives.
Pediatricians Vs. Parents
Consider an ordinary aspect of family life: a trip to the pediatrician’s office.
Parents of 12- and 13-year-olds may find themselves unceremoniously ejected from the pediatrician’s examining room so that the doctor can speak privately with their child. It used to be that parents stepped out discreetly for a moment during the physical exam of an opposite-sex child, out of respect for the child’s developing body and desire for modesty.
But that’s not why parents are shown the door these days.
Willing or not, today’s pediatrician is a field agent in the campaign for ‘youth rights,’ a global movement that insists children have the capacity—and the right—to make their own decisions about issues that concern them, particularly questions of sexual identity, sexual behavior, and reproductive health. In reality, the demand for ‘youth rights’ is simply cover for the left’s aggressive promotion of its radical sexual agenda.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) seems to have embraced its part in the youth rights campaign. In recent policy statements on emergency contraception and the care of LGBTQ youth, the AAP urges pediatricians to “counsel,” educate, and support young people in the exercise of their sexual and reproductive rights.
The AAP tells its physicians that, “regardless” of the adolescent’s “current intentions for sexual behavior,” the pediatrician should discuss “sexual safety and family planning,” as a matter of “routine anticipatory guidance.” In addition, the conscientious pediatrician will go even further, offering to “supply” both boys and girls with emergency contraception to “have on hand in case of future need.”
Pediatricians Secretly Assisting With … Sexual Identity?
The progressive powers-that-be have decided that providing emergency contraception is part of the new script for adolescent care— even if the teen doesn’t request it. ‘Let’s check your height, listen to your lungs, and send you home with some emergency contraception.’ With no judgment, shame, or stigma, of course. (And no regard either for family concerns about the health, emotional, and moral implications of teen sex and emergency contraception.)
Similarly, the AAP statement on LGBTQ youth envisions that pediatricians will play “a role in helping teenagers sort through their [sexual] feelings and behaviors…pediatricians should assist adolescents as they develop their identities and to avoid the consequences of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), regardless of sexual orientation.”
In a blatantly political move, the AAP policy also condemns “heterosexism” (the idea that “heterosexuality is the expected norm and that somehow LGBTQ teens are ‘abnormal’”) and recommends that pediatricians display pictures of same-sex couples in order to be more welcoming to “sexual minority” youth. And lest children miss the inclusive message, the AAP tells pediatricians to ask adolescents (even those who are not yet sexually active) if they are attracted to or having sex with “males, females, or both.”
In all these discussions, the family pediatrician is expected to offer him or herself as the ‘trusted adult’—effectively supplanting the parent—in whom an adolescent confides, and from whom he or she seeks advice, about sex, gender, sexual orientation, and “responsible” behavior.
The AAP statements are troubling not only because they put a professional stamp of approval on progressive sexual ideology, but also because they fail to acknowledge parents’ rightful interest in and expertise regarding the wellbeing of their children.
In fact, the AAP—like the youth rights movement in general—presumes that parents are the child’s adversaries, likely to threaten or thwart the adolescent’s budding independence, especially about sexual matters. The physician, warns the AAP, should not “inform parents/guardians about the teenager’s sexual identity or behavior; doing so could expose the youth to harm.”
The Mature Minor Exceptions
‘Preventing harm,’ of course, has been the rationale advanced for decades to justify providing sexual and reproductive health care to teens without parental permission. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s tangled abortion jurisprudence, courts and many state legislatures implemented expansive ‘mature minor’ exceptions to parental consent rules, in order to ensure ‘emergency’ care for minors. Georgetown Law Professor Jeffrey Shulman—no fan of parental rights—observes that, “The truth is that the state has wrested control from parents over some of a young person‘s most intimate and morally problematic personal decisions.” And the state has given that decision-making authority to young people themselves.
Although U.S. schools, courts, and the medical community abide by the convenient fiction that teenagers have the capacity to make mature decisions about life-altering sexual and reproductive matters, several scholars have recently criticized the “mission creep” of the mature minor doctrine in light of brain research that demonstrates the immaturity of teen-age decision-making and developments in criminal law that discourage treating minors as mature adults.
But youth rights activists don’t tarry long over harm-based rationales or new research developments, choosing instead to celebrate young people’s “rights” to sexual health. The new “sexual health paradigm” frames “sexual rights, sexual knowledge, sexual choice, and sexual pleasure” as essential aspects of wellbeing, for pubescent teens as well as for adults.
In the ‘sexual health’ paradigm, children are ‘rights holders’ and parents are ‘barriers’ to the exercise of those rights. It’s a common theme that’s played out not only in private doctors’ offices, but also in teen ‘reproductive health’ clinics, school-based health centers, and sexuality education courses.
The Teen and Young Adult Health Connection (TAYA) of Maryland, for example, offers a smorgasbord of confidential sexual health services to “men, women, and transgender people ages 12- 35.” Got that? Twelve-year old children are “men” and “women” in the ideologically-driven world of sexual and reproductive health. These children are drawn by the promise of confidentiality (their parents won’t find out), given “sexual health” advice by reproductive rights activists, and complimented for their ‘mature’ decision-making. The testimony of a young TAYA client named “Patricia” is instructive: “I came here when I was 16 to get an IUD and I can truly say that [the clinic] changed my life. It’s a place that my mom doesn’t know about…I was respected here, was given all the options, and was informed. And that made me feel like I could make good decisions about my health on my own.”
Bring On Obamacare
Consistent with the youth-rights-based approach, Obamacare makes it a whole lot easier for children to keep parents in the dark about their ‘good decisions.’ The contraceptive mandate, which requires employers’ insurance to offer free ‘women’s health’ preventive services without a co-pay, solves a sticky problem for advocates of youth sexual rights—confidentiality. In the past, office visits to obtain contraceptives or receive treatment for ‘sexual health’ typically required co-pays, obliging insurers to send an explanation of benefits (EOB) to the policyholder. According to theGuttmacher Institute, Obamacare’s “no co-pay” rule for preventive services has spurred some states and insurance companies to eliminate the EOB for these services, ensuring the teen’s privacy in sexual and reproductive health matters.
The practical result: Mom and Dad won’t know that their sweet 13-year-old is receiving antibiotics for an acute chlamydia infection—leaving them unaware and powerless to protect her from coerced or abusive sex. They won’t know that their sixteen-year-old was fitted for an IUD and may be suffering side effects like pain, bleeding, and infection. And they won’t know that their 15-year old son, recently out and proud, just tested positive for HIV. (LGBT advocates probably didn’t tell him that CDC reports show HIV running rampant in gay communities, afflicting one out of five “men who have sex with men” (MSM). And they probably forgot to mention that new HIV infections spiked 22% among the youngest MSM (ages 13-24) and that there’s been a “resurgence” of serious sexually transmitted infections, such as syphilis and gonorrhea, among MSM who “substitute” oral sex for anal sex, hoping to avoid HIV.)
Parents who know nothing about their children’s sexual activity have no power to influence their children’s decisions—but that’s the point.
Obamacare has boosted youth rights in another way, by providing a funding stream of over $200 million to support US. School-based Health Centers (SBHCs). SBHCs aspire to be the ‘medical home’ for many students, addressing all their health needs—including sexual and reproductive health—right on school premises. (Parental consent is required for ordinary illnesses, but a “special exception” allows teens to consent for their own sexual and reproductive care.)
SBHC staff members are taught to be opportunists, promoting available sexual and reproductive services to all students. According to Deborah Kaplan, Assistant Commissioner of the New York City Bureau of Maternal, Infant & Reproductive Health, “every young person” who seeks any kind of treatment in New York City’s School-Based Health Centers is asked “the key question,” whether “he or she [is] sexually active.” Ms. Kaplan considers it a sign of success that “there’s been more and more word of mouth among students asking for IUDs,” and she expects the numbers to “grow dramatically” as a result.
By Teens, For Teens? Not By A Long Shot
For the youth rights crowd, the only message kids must hear is “Know your rights to sex education, birth control, and more.” In fact, the website Sex, etc offers teens an interactive map of “Sex in the States,” with state-by-state details related to kids’ “sexual rights,” including age of consent, confidentiality, and availability of contraception and abortion. The New York City Health Department, ever helpful, has developed a “Teens in NYC” mobile app as well, to tell teens “where to go” to obtain contraception—and abortions.
The Sex, etc. website also demonstrates a prime strategy of the youth rights movement: its banner proclaims that it is “by teens, for teens.” It’s nothing of the sort.
Sex, etc. is published and funded by Answer, a national organization that’s been promoting, for over 30 years, young people’s “unfettered access” to explicit sexuality education. Answer recommends Planned Parenthood as a resource for parents of pre-teens (9-13), and complains that state policies that require children to learn that sex is “only appropriate within the context of a heterosexual marriage” are “bad news.”
Youth advocates purposely create the perception that the youth ‘sexual rights’ movement is a bottom-up, youth-driven movement. It’s not. It is a strategic, long-term business plan for an unholy alliance of pro-choice, sexuality-education providers, including Advocates for Youth, Answer, and SIECUS (the Sexuality Education and Information Council of the United States).
These three organizations have spearheaded an initiative—The Future of Sex Education Project (FoSE)—aimed at “revolutionizing” sexuality education in the U.S. through a uniform program of instruction (indoctrination) that they hope will be installed in every public school in America. FoSe’s “National Sexuality Education Standards” set forth a “progressive and pragmatic” K-12 program of “Core Content and Skills” related to sexuality, contraception, safer sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
But it’s a corrupt vision of sexuality, peddled by self-appointed “experts” with much to gain: the FoSE partners offer “myriad resources, tailored training and technical assistance on policy, advocacy and mobilization for state-based and local organizations and coalitions working to promote the sexual health of young people” —‘sexual health’ built on a destructive platform of meaningless sex, free contraception, and unlimited abortion. Even so, business seems to be booming.
The Trojan Horse of ‘youth rights’ has been welcomed into the city. Call me Cassandra, but its presence does not bode well for our children.
Mary Rice Hasson, J.D., is a Fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.