The National Conference of Catholic Bishops has voted to undertake a campaign to outlaw school health clinics that offer birth control and abortion information. The prelates have concluded that any positive effects the clinics may have on the well-being of adolescents is outweighed by the risk that they will reinforce "self-destructive behavior patterns."
We think the bishops have made a grave error.
One of their arguments is that school-based clinics violate the parent-child relationship. The school clinics we know about require parental consent.
The consent issue notwithstanding, we know many parents with a close and trusting relationship with their children who also recognize the utility of having professional health-care providers available at school to respond to the needs and questions of their children.
Another of the bishops' arguments is that the availability of information, or of contraceptives, would only encourage sexual activity. The evidence is to the contrary. There is convincing research demonstrating that adolescents who are informed about and with access to contraception are no more sexually active than those left in ignorance. Instruction about the perils of AIDS would be meaningless without a clear understanding about the limited but useful role that condoms can play for those who do not accept abstinence as a solution.