Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, and
welcome to THE ADVOCATES, the PBS Fight of the Week. Tonight’s question
examines teenagers and the law, and specifically this question: "Should the
law allow "birth control treatment for teenagers without their parents’
consent?" Appearing tonight as guest moderator is Carolyn Bell, economist,
consultant, and writer, and currently professor of economics at Wellesley
Arguing in support of the proposal is Zipporah Wiseman,
professor of law at Northeastern University. Appearing with Mrs. Wiseman
will be Dr. Alan Guttmacher of Planned Parenthood and Dr. Mary Lane of the
Sanger Contraception Clinic.
Arguing against the proposal is James Hill, an attorney
from Atlanta. Appearing as witnesses for Mr. Hill will be Blaine Porter,
Dean of Brigham Young University, and Dr. Richard Schmidt of the American
College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I have your attention,
Moderator Carolyn Bell has just called tonight's
meeting to order.
Good evening and welcome to The Advocates, coming to
you tonight from Boston's historic Faneuil Hall, Our subject this evening is
of immediate concern to parents and their children, but ultimately, it
concerns us all. Should the law allow birth control treatment for teenagers
without their parents' consent? Advocate Zipporah Wiseman says,
Whether we like it or not, half of our young people are now
having sex, and they don't ask us parents for permission. They shouldn't
have to ask us to see a doctor for birth control counseling.
Advocate James Hill says, "No."
This proposal is grounded upon the ideas that parental
interest in a child is harmful to the child and that what the parents don't
know won't hurt them or their families. No program based upon such false
assumptions can be of merit.
Thank you. We'll be back to you later for your cases,
but first a word of background on tonight's question. The extent of
adolescent sexual activity has long been a matter merely of speculation, but
two studies have been published on the subject recently and the results may
be surprising. The data show that 52 percent of the teenagers, young people
between 13 and 19, have had sexual intercourse; and nearly 40 percent had
their first experience when they were 15 or younger.
To these statistics must be added another, more somber, set
of facts. Venereal disease is more than twice as prevalent among teenagers
than in the adult population, and disease is not the only problem. Less than
10 percent of the sexually active teenagers use reliable methods of birth
control. In the last decade, pregnancy out of wedlock has increased. In
1970, there were over 180,000 babies born to unwed teenage mothers. And in
New York, where abortion has been legal for the past several years, one of
every four abortions is performed on teenagers.
The evidence of increasing sexual activity among teenagers
has sparked debate on the question of the rights of minors to seek medical
care without their parents' consent. Traditionally, parental consent has
been required; but, because of the urgency of the venereal disease epidemic,
48 states now permit minors to receive treatment for venereal disease
without their parents' consent. And in 19 states, the rights of teenagers to
seek such care extends to all forms of medical consultation including birth
Yet, the issue is a controversial one. In Maryland, where
teenagers now have the right to seek such care without their parents'
consent, there's a move to repeal the law. And in California, Governor
Reagan has three times vetoed such proposed legislation.
Well, should the law allow teenagers to have these medical
services without their parents’ consent first, birth control treatment, and
then, where it is not prohibited to adults, abortion as well? Mrs. Wiseman,
why should teenagers be permitted to have such services without their
Today, more than half the young people in this country
have had intercourse by the time they are 19, almost half of them before
they are 15. They are not asking us, their parents, whether they can or
should have sex. They are making their own decisions.
The law governing the rights of minors to seek birth
control advice without parental consent is now vague and uncertain. The
practice, however, is clear. Too few of our children use too little birth
control too late. We must encourage our children to go to doctors for birth
control advice. Doctors must feel absolutely certain that they are free to
give this advice without our consent.
Our children are sexually active. Many have unwanted
babies. I believe that it's unconscionable to drive our children to abortion
as their only available form of birth control. Our children must have the
right to consult a doctor about contraception with the same dignity and
privacy that we have as adults. My first witness is Dr. Alan
Welcome to The Advocates, Dr. Guttmacher.
Thank you very much.
Dr. Guttmacher is President of Planned Parenthood-World
Population. He has practiced, taught, and written about obstetrics,
gynecology, and birth control for over 40 years. Dr. Guttmacher, what do you
feel and observe the consequences are of the fact that so few young people
use effective birth control methods?
Well, of course, they're several, and as has
been referred to earlier, of the 402,000 legal abortions which were done in
New York City in the two-year period, 28 percent were on teenagers. We have
a figure from California where 31 percent of the abortions performed are on
teenagers. So that the necessity to carry out abortion among teenagers is
tremendous. Dr. Christopher Tsetse (?), who is one of the great authorities
in this field, states that in 1971 there were 100,000 legal abortions on
teenagers, and he assumes that there were 100,000 criminal abortions,
illegal abortions, on teenagers who could not get legal abortion.
Those are shocking figures and . . . Excuse me,
Let's talk with facts.
Well, in the facts, what are the consequences in terms of
unwanted children born to young people?
That's a little more difficult to document,
except, of course, we know the battered baby syndrome which, in many
instances, comes with unwanted children; other instances, children later
unwanted. But one of the most interesting facets of the liberal abortion
policy in New York has been something noted at Kings County Hospital and at
Harlem Hospital, two of our great metropolitan hospitals, where now half as
many babies, or less than half as many babies, are being deserted by their
mothers on the ward. It's not uncommon in these great city hospitals for
women who are dressed in probably gowns to be met in the hall with someone
with an overcoat. They slip the overcoat on and walk out and they leave the
baby with a false address. And now this, of course, is happening with less
frequency, and it's because we have legal abortion. And I would think it
would happen with less frequency if we were able to give the teenager the
kind of contraceptive help that the law would allow them.
Well, why, Dr. Guttmacher, do you think it's important
that young people be able to go to a doctor for birth control advice without
their parents’ consent?
Well, first of all, if we can involve the
parents, if the child gives his permission, I'd rather do it that
I think we all would.
…then it becomes a family situation which they
help us with. But, on the other hand, if the child tells me I cannot involve
the parent, then I think that it's essential that we do it to protect this
child against pregnancy, and there's no other way of doing it.
Dr. Guttmacher, I think it's time to allow Mr. Hill
to ask you some questions.
Thank you. Dr. Guttmacher, I believe, put another
way, in New York, 72 percent of the abortions were done on adults and in
California, 69 percent were on adults.
And is it not true that in both of those states,
adults are absolutely free to seek birth control counseling without the
consent of anybody?
And the majority of the abortions are being performed
on those who already have the benefit of what you suggest would cure the
problem for young people.
Yes, but you must recognize the fact that when
28 percent of the abortions in New York were done on teenagers, 31 percent
in California, this is a relatively small group of sexually active
individuals. Now, you have a much larger group of sexually active
individuals between the ages of 20 and 45 than you have between the ages of
15 and 19.
But you have a substantially…
Proportionately, I think that there're many
more abortions being done on teenagers than adults.
Although, there are no illegitimate births to married
adults, are there?
I beg your pardon, sir.
There are no illegitimate births to married
Of course, there are extramarital births but
Yeah. But the unwanted child may be of a married
adult, and they are free to seek all of the treatment and counseling that
you advocate to cure the problem with teenagers. Is that not so?
I think you oversimplify it in that I wish
birth control were as available to all adults as you make it. It is not to
the poor in all America. I can promise you that.
There's no need for them to get their parents'
consent. Isn't it true, doctor, that the in depth studies that your clinics
and others have concluded, and I quote from one of them, "that
contraceptive-only programs have not yet demonstrated their capacity to
prevent a significant number of unwanted illicit pregnancies in any large
population?" Isn't that the experience of all these programs that have been
Well, I think that we're accomplishing a great
deal in our Planned Parenthood Clinics. We see adolescence in 121 of the 192
affiliates. Some of them don't give service. And I think we give counseling
and empathetic care. I think we have a much higher rate of consistency of
use of contraception. There's a great deal, sir, in how the contraception is
given, through the degree of empathy, understanding, and counseling. It's
not the dishing out. It's something far deeper and far more important than
this dishing-outy method.
It must he coupled with counseling on all of the
things that are related to the decision-making process of that child.
It should be.
And you say here tonight that the parent should not
have to be involved in that counseling.
If the child wishes not to, I think that the
danger of not involving the parent is a much less danger than having this
child have an unwanted pregnancy and then creating a family crisis with an
unwanted pregnancy which is a significant trauma.
In creating the crisis, Doctor, as it might be
created, are you prepared to say that where parents would oppose this
treatment and these devices that, in all cases, they are wrong? The
You're talking to the audience more than to me,
and so therefore I didn't get your question.
I'm awfully sorry. I'll repeat the question. If the
parent opposes the treatment that is offered at the clinic or any other
doctor, in all cases, would you be prepared to say the parent is
Well, in almost every incidence, the parent
comes around and accepts your point of view as a physician as being a
necessary procedure. We have this thing constantly in our clinics as our
next witness will demonstrate to you. Parents are not unreasonable
And you get the cooperation of the not-unreasonable
parents where you seek it.
If the parent discovers that the child is using
a contraceptive without his or her knowledge, the parent very often has a
great emotional reaction to it. But if you discuss this with the parent and
tell how much protection you're giving the child, they are often very
grateful to you for what you've done.
And do not obstruct the program.
Mr. Hill, I think it's Mrs. Wiseman's turn.
Dr. Guttmacher, would you tell us what the body of medical
opinion is at this time as to the desirability of giving contraceptive
advice and consultation to young people without their parents' consent if
We, of course, have a good many medical
organizations of great prestige. In my end of the work, in obstetrics and
gynecology, we have the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. And
in 1971, the Executive Board of this college issued the following advisory
"The unmarried female of any age should have access to the most effective
forms of contraception even in the case of the unemancipated minor who
refuses to involve her parents."
Doctor, nothing about the use of contraceptives will
help to solve venereal disease problems, will it?
Well, of course, the use of the condom would be
a help, sir.
But the recommended better and more reliable forms
would be less helpful in venereal disease, would it not?
Well, of course, they're medically oriented,
and it gives the physician the great opportunity to see the child or the
patient and make the diagnosis of venereal disease. That's one of the great
assets of having a child go to a physician for birth control rather than
going to the drugstore because, at the same time, if he’s a good doctor, and
I hope he is, he will also take a culture for GC and perhaps do a
All right, sir. Since the laws were liberalized so
that children can have absolute access for venereal disease treatment
without parental consent, the venereal disease rate has remarkably
increased, has it not?
A very brief answer, please.
It has increased . . .
Thank you so much, Dr. Guttmacher, for being with us
this evening. Mrs. Wiseman, your next witness.
Thank you. I’ll call Dr. Mary Lane.
Welcome to The Advocates, Dr. Lane.
Dr. Lane is a physician in the field of family planning,
the medical director of the contraception services for Margaret Sanger, and
the medical director of their Teen Center. Dr. Lane, you're the person that
the kids come to for the kind of advice we’re talking about tonight. What
happens to them when they come to see you at the Teen Center?
Most of the young people who come there are coming
explicitly for contraceptive care. We tell them what to expect of our
service, what kind of procedures we perform, and why. We describe to them
the nature of the pelvic examination which many of them are very fearful of
undergoing. We take a medical history for medical screening purposes to make
us more capable of helping them with the decision about method. We give them
an examination, and we usually prescribe a method on that very first visit.
In addition to having this very thorough discussion of the birth control
methods that are available, they also have the opportunity on that first
occasion to discuss things which are important to them, which bear on
What kinds of things, excuse me, do they discuss as being
important, and do these include the reasons for coming to the Teen Center in
the first place?
Yes, we usually elicit these reasons when we
interview them for the first time. When you take a medical history, it's
fairly simple to get this kind of information. We hear about their problems
with the relationship which they find themselves in, their questions about
the nature of the relationship - Is this a love relationship or is this
something else; is it what I want it to be? We hear about the relationship
between themselves and their parents. We hear about peer pressures. We hear
about their anxieties about themselves, their sexuality, their functioning,
their place in society. Now, we don't get all of this the first visit but if
they keep coming, we learn an awful lot about the fellows and girls, and
they learn an awful lot about themselves.
Do they keep coming? How soon do they come back?
We schedule them for a visit every three months for a
medical checkup, but they sometimes come in before that just to
Had many of the teenagers that you saw talked to their
parents before they came to see you at the Teen Center?
Not many. Less than a third.
What reasons do they give you for not having spoken with
Many of them say that they would have liked to talk
to their parents, that they actually felt guilty about taking this step
without their parents knowing, but that the situation at home was rather
tense to begin with and they simply knew that this would make it even more
tense. It would estrange them further. Sometimes we've heard that the
parents would work to break up the relationship if they knew that it was a
Do you try to involve the parents when you feel you
We always introduce the subject. This is the way we
find out why they haven't talked to their parents. If a patient says to us
that it would be impossible at the moment, we don't press it, we don't
pursue it but we try to sort of keep it somewhere on the agenda for future
occasions to bring it up and discuss it again.
Mrs. Wiseman, I've noticed Mr. Hill taking a great
many notes during Dr. Lane's testimony. Mr. Hill.
As I understand it, Dr. Lane, the benefit to be
derived by the suggested program is to eliminate the consequences, that is,
illegitimate births, resulting from sexual activities of under-19-year-olds.
Is that correct? Is that what you're trying to do?
My purpose is to try to prevent an unwanted
All right. And the best way to do that, if you could
do it, would be to require the use of contraceptives by all people eligible
for an unwanted birth. Is that right?
No. In some instances, this might do just the
opposite. If you required someone to use contraception and they really
hadn't determined that it was the thing for them, they would use it
Then do I understand that, take, say, a 13-or
l4-year-old who has learned all that you can impart to that child about the
use of contraceptive comes to a judgment decision that he or she does not
want to use the contraceptive, you respect that child's judgment?
And yet you would suggest that we ought to bypass the
judgment of the adult parent of that child and depend upon the
judgment-making ability of the 13-year-old. Is that correct?
No, I'm not suggesting that we bypass the parents’
judgment and the parents’ input if we can get it. If we can get it, by all
means we should because we think that it would be helpful to the person to
use their contraceptive effectively if they have the support of their
And you desire the support of the parents, but you
leave it up to the judgment-making ability of the 13-year-old as to whether
you should contact a parent.
Yes, I feel I have to do that.
Now, do I understand that you propose that regular
patient-physician relationship be created between the child and the
And if so, then the ethics of your profession and,
in main, the law would forbid your even answering a concerned parent's
inquiry as to the treatment, advice, and consultation you have had with that
parent's child. Is that correct?
That is correct, unless the child gives me explicit
leave to do so.
So once again, we rely on the judgment of the child
and eliminate the judgment of the adult parent. Is that correct?
Not entirely because you forget the continued
association with that child through which you hope that you can create an
atmosphere where that child will find it possible, more possible, to
communicate with that parent and bring the parent into the decision-making
If there are fine parents of a young person who, for
their own reasons, religious conviction or their view of morals, feel that
they have concluded for the ongoing character development of their child
that they would rather the child not have made available to him or her
contraceptive devices, do you think it's none of that parent's business
whether the child is being counseled and given that treatment?
I would say that that decision of the parent is in
no way preventing the child from having sexual intercourse and exposing
herself to pregnancy, and the child has come to me asking to be protected
And if the parent doesn't want the child protected,
you feel that parent has no right to be involved in the decision-making, and
you'll protect the child without the parent's knowledge. Is that
Yes, I would because I think it's medically
undesirable for a child to become pregnant.
All right. Now, if the child has reached the age
when the child must bear the consequences, then you feel the child's mature
judgment has been attained. Is that correct?
I'm not sure I understand your question. Could you
Well, if the child is subject to the consequences of
pregnancy, then the child ought to make the decision about the use of
Because the child has reached the age of bearing the
consequence. Would that apply, say, - I believe eight-year-olds can bear the
consequence of heroin addiction - should the parent be involved in a
decision as to whether the child should elect that course just because the
child has reached the age of suffering the consequences?
I don't believe I could even begin to discuss heroin
addiction in the same conversation with contraception because . . .
Mrs. Wiseman. Mrs. Wiseman, another
Yes, just one simple one, Dr. Lane. Would you say that
the reason that you feel that when there is conflict between a parent and a
child as to whether that child should have contraception advice the reason
that you opt for respecting the child’s wishes is because it is the child
that will bear a child and not the parent?
Dr. Lane, there are all kinds of parents, some who
don't care about their child and some who care very much and endorse your
program and some who care very much but oppose the program. Now, the only
one that would be affected by your program would be the one who cares but
opposes the program. Isn't that right?
I would suppose so.
I think it obviously would have to be, would it
And that parent who cares very dearly about the
child but opposes this program would be short-circuited if this law were
adopted, would they not?
I Except that I'm not so sure that that parent knows
why he or she opposes the program.
But you would decide for them, though, because your
judgment and the 13-year-old's judgment ought to transcend the judgment of
the wrong parent. Is that your view?
No, I think that when we can…
Thank you. Thank you, Dr. Lane. I'm sorry, but we
will have to thank you for your very interesting testimony
Of course, it would be better if parents and kids talked
about sex a lot and often, but they don't. It might even be better if kids
didn't have sex at all, but they do. And of all the resulting problems, the
most crucial and the most tragic is unplanned pregnancy and the unwanted
baby. Think of the unwanted child, resented and unloved, of the 16-year-old
girl giving birth in fear and bitterness. I can't imagine anything more
destructive to any family.
Thank you. For those of you in our audience who may
have joined us late, Mrs. Wiseman and her witnesses have just presented
their case in favor of the law allowing birth control treatment for
teenagers without their parents' consent. And now, for the case against, the
floor is yours, Mr. Hill.
Thank you, Dr. Bell. You see, semi-intellectuals
have been brainwashing parents. We've been told that the way to direct our
children is to withhold all direction. The bankruptcy of that program has
been illustrated by the other side's description of mounting teenage sex
problems. Permissiveness is a failure. Yet, like Pavlov's pup, some hear the
bell of trouble ping and salivate for more permissiveness. But now, it's
forced permissiveness. Until now, experts have made their recommendations to
parents. Now parents are to be eliminated altogether in favor of experts. It
seems that children are wise, and doctors are wise, and only parents are
stupid. So wise children and wise doctors ought to be freed from ignorant
parents, and the family must be forgotten. But the family must not be
forgotten. And to illustrate why, I call as my first witness Mr. Blaine
Welcome to The Advocates, Mr. Porter.
Mr. Porter is Dean of the College of Family Living
at Brigham Young University. He has served as President of the National
Council on Family Relations. Dean Porter, why do you oppose the idea that
children should be able to get birth control devices without the consent of
Mr. Hill, I oppose this idea because I believe so
firmly in the family, and this proposal undercuts the very heart and soul of
the family. The family is the place where the individual child is born into.
He's reared there. He's given guidance. And it seems to me that this
proposal undercuts the authority and the control of parents and the unity
and integrity of the family.
How do you feel that this proposal would weaken the
Well, the family has the functions of providing
security and the sense of morality and self-discipline and respect for
legitimate authority; and this strikes at the very heart of that. When the
family is weak, as in the urban ghetto, trouble inevitably follows. And it's
generally conceded that when the family is weak and disorganized, children
suffer more than anyone.
Do you feel this proposal would strengthen or weaken
I feel that it would weaken it.
Somewhat dramatically, it was said that something
like 180,000 illegitimate births were reported last year to teenage
children. Have you any facts that would help us put this into
Well, if we look at the total number of female
teenagers between 13 and 19» this figure would represent just barely over
one percent of them who are having births out of wedlock.
All right, sir. Do you find in you work that it's
true that some parents are unconcerned with their children? They just don't
want to become bothered or involved in their children's problems?
Well, regrettably, this is true of some parents,
but I believe that this proposal would just worsen the situation. What we
need to do is to strengthen the family, I believe that those who are
concerned about it should have the opportunity to be, and we have reasonable
alternatives for those who are parents who are uncooperative and
What about cases where parents are considered just
to be wrong, where they don't know what's best for their child. They're
irresponsible, and their advice or direction is said to hurt the
Well, if they are extremely unreasonable, we have
other alternatives. Well, I feel very uncomfortable, Mr. Hill, in setting up
either a private or a governmental agency that's going to pass judgment and
say that parents are wrong. I believe the parents should be brought in, as
we had described before, and counsel with them and help them to understand
the problem and their teenager.
But Mr. Hill, you yourself, just said that - I'm
sorry - Mr. Porter, you, yourself, just said there were other alternatives
for the parents. I think that's what Mr. Hill is asking you.
That there are other alternatives?
For the unreasonable parents.
Yes, I feel that they should be brought in and to
be counseled, but we do have other provisions in the law where, if, in the
judgment of the court or a social worker, and from the court, of course, and
a physician feel that some other alternative should be followed, then there
is another possibility,
Thank you, May we let Mrs. Wiseman ask some
Mr. Porter, is it your position that all families can
handle the responsibility of instructing their children about sex and its
No, I don't believe that all of them do. I believe
that those who cannot should be helped to do their job better,
Are you in favor of sex education in the schools?
I believe the most appropriate place for sex
education is in the home, and what we need most is sex education for
You’re not against birth control in principle, are
Well, I would be uncomfortable in approving it for
everybody because we have literally millions of people in our country who
have religious convictions that oppose birth control, and I believe that
they should have the freedom to follow those convictions.
But you believe those that have the conviction that they
want to use birth control should be free to do that too.
I feel that's their decision, not mine.
You do. At what age do you think people are unable to
make that decision for themselves?
Unable to make it?
I don't believe you can set an age because the
time of maturity varies so much from one individual to another.
I find we're in total agreement. Do you find that young
people ask their parents or their educators or adults, in general, for
permission to have sexual intercourse?
Do you think parents have any real control over their
young children's, 13 to 19, sex life -13 to 18?
I don't know that I would call it control, I think
many parents have a significant influence.
I hope they do. I hope they do. Do you think that a
change in the law that we're proposing, the change that would permit those
teenagers who are mature enough to take themselves to a doctor to get
counseling from a doctor without consulting their parents for various
reasons, that that change would have an adverse effect on the lives of those
I think it could have an adverse effect upon the
lives of the children, and it certainly would have an adverse effect upon
the unity and the strength of the family in our country.
The strength and the control of the parents over the
No, I would say influence, again, rather than
And I believe that many of the teenagers in the
country, who may be very much in favor of such a proposal, within a decade
are going to be parents themselves and may have some second thoughts about
what they want their children to be doing,
We just hope that they're going to be parents when they
want to be parents and how they want to be parents. That's all we're
proposing, Dr. Porter.
Could I add one more statement? I think in
addition to when and how that they should be prepared to assume the
responsibilities that go along with parenthood which is more than whether or
not conception occurs.
Again, we're in absolute agreement. Dr. Porter, assume
you have a l6-year-old daughter, and despite your best efforts and your
influence, she is sexually active. Would you prefer that she become pregnant
or go to a doctor without consulting you about it and getting your
I wouldn't like either one of those alternatives,
and I hope I would not be limited to them. I would want to have the
opportunity of participating in any decision that would be made in such a
But you can imagine many families in this country where
parents might not be asked, or even if they were asked, were not able to
participate in that decision, can't you?
I'm not sure I understand the question
The question is whether you can imagine a family in which
a l6-year-old might, indeed, go to a doctor without consulting her parents
about birth control.
Could I imagine such an instance?
Yeah, can you conceive it or…
Yeah, I can conceive that that could
I could also conceive that they could go to their
Oh, yes, indeed.
But let us assume that family in which the l6-year-old
girl does not go to her parents. Do you think she is better off being helped
to get effective birth control methods or becoming pregnant as a consequence
of not being able to get that information from a doctor because she couldn't
bring in parental consent,
May we have a short answer?
I'm not willing to settle for the fact that those
are the only alternatives. I believe, as has been described earlier, the
parents could be brought in and counseled, and in 90 percent or more of the
cases, they would be willing to cooperate.
Mr. Hill, another question.
Well, Dr. Porter, what do you feel should be done to
deal with such real problems as exist, and do you believe government has any
part to play in it?
I believe that the family should have the primary
responsibility, not a government agency. And we have failed yet to talk
about some of the other alternatives that are available and one of them, I
believe, would be to help the teenagers to be less sexually active, I know
thousands of teenagers in this country who are not participating in
pre-marital sex relations. And do you know, it's interesting that not a one
of them has a problem with venereal disease, an unwanted pregnancy, an
abortion, or getting birth control information,
All right, sir. Is there anything being done or made
available by the government which might help?
For the record, Mr. Hill, for the record, the
proposal tonight does not envisage a government agency but merely a change
in the law.
Absolutely, but it would take the government's
action to change the law, and I’m asking is the government acting with
reference to the family in any way that might be helpful.
It is comforting to note that Congress
appropriated several million dollars recently to establish some experimental
programs of parent training in the secondary schools that will be initiated
in experimental school districts this fall.
Going to the training of parents to counsel their
No, this is going to help the young people become
better parents themselves.
Thank you, Dean Porter.
I'd like to call next Dr. Richard Schmidt.
Dr. Schmidt is Director of Obstetrics and Gynecology
at Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati and President of its Family Life
Clinic. He is on the executive committee of the American College of
Obstetrics and Gynecology and Chairman of its Professional Standards
Committee. And I ask you first, Doctor, some mention was made of activity by
the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and its executive
committee of which you are a member. Could you tell us what was done and
what was refused?
Yes, sir. Dr. Guttmacher was correct in what he
quoted; however, you'll notice that the statement said, "should be available
even to the unemancipated minor." It said nothing about a recommendation of
change in law. Now, this very point came up within this past year in a
report of the Committee on Family Life Education in which they made the
specific recommendation that the College adopt the policy of recommending
such a change in law. The College chose not. The Executive Committee and its
Executive Board chose not to accept this as a matter of policy but to
publish this as a committee report which, incidentally, contains the little
disclaimer, "This is not College policy, although it's the work of
Dr. Schmidt, in your opinion, does the law now
unreasonably hinder the doctor in dealing with adolescent sexual
No, sir, Mr. Kill, I don't think it does-. The
people in our adolescent clinic at the Municipal Hospital in Cincinnati,
University of Cincinnati Medical Center, they don't feel inhibited by it. I
think there's a little misunderstanding about what the present law does.
All, in my view and I really think in the view of most physicians, all the
present law does is says, "Doctor, be responsible for what you do," which I
think physicians expect to do.
If there is any question under any extreme case as
to the involvement of parent in that decision making, how should it be
resolved under the law?
Well, I think it ought to be resolved on the side
of the parents and I think the same relationship. The parents have the
responsibility for looking after their children, and all we're saying is
they should have the right to exercise that responsibility. Get them into
You've heard it suggested that if the parent doesn't
agree that a physician ought to be entitled to decide for the parent all
questions in this area. Do you agree with that philosophy?
I certainly don't feel that a physician ought to
decide everything in this area, and I don't think most doctors would want to
be in that position.
Do you feel that this issue is strictly a medical
question, Doctor, or does it involve other considerations?
No, sir. That's exactly the point. Let me say
this, Mr. Hill. I respect what Dr. Guttmacher and Dr. Lane are trying to do.
I think we all want to see teenage pregnancy diminished, venereal disease
diminished. This, however, is crisis oriented. These do not represent the
vast majority of kids. The concern is what does the change in law say to the
millions of other kids that are not in this crisis situation. Now, if it
were necessary to deal with the crisis to change the law, then, maybe, it'd
be worthy of consideration.
Mrs. Wiseman, what do you think is necessary to
change the law? Do you have some questions for Dr. Schmidt?
Dr. Schmidt, do you mean that if the law were changed to
permit minors to seek birth control advice without parental consent, if the
law said to doctors, OK, you can go ahead an give birth control advice to
this minor without parental consent, that you would no longer use reasonable
judgment when you were giving that advice? Is that what you testify
Well, no, no. Quite the contrary. What I'm saying
is that doctors are not presently inhibited from giving that
There are effective adolescent clinics operating
in every major medical center in the United States, and they're not indicted
If a minor comes into your adolescent clinic, Dr.
Schmidt, and asks for birth control advice, 15- or 16-year-old girl. Is she
asked whether her parents know she's there? How does the procedure
Well, you understand I don't operate that clinic.
But what the specific policy - and I asked them this question - How do you
feel about this? They said, "No, we don't want to exclude the parent. Our
main thrust is to try to involve the parents.
Yes, Dr. Schmidt, but . . .
These are complicated kids we have, and if only
we could involve the parent, this is what we're looking for.
Dr. Schmidt, we are in absolute agreement. We all agree,
Dr. Lane, Dr. Guttmacher, you, me, everybody, that if can involve the
parents, it's going to be better for everybody. I'm asking you a-bout the
situation in which a girl of 15 or 16 comes into the adolescent clinic in
your hospital under the present law and asks for birth control advice, is
she asked whether her parents consent?
She certainly is asked about her parents, and
every attempt is made to make contact with her parents, yes.
Supposing her parents cannot be made contact with, do you
then throw her out?
Why, no, she's not thrown out, and this is the
point of what I'm saying. I don't think children are thrown out where there
is a crisis situation. If they're trying to put out a fire…
Is it a crisis to be having sexual intercourse at
Sure, I think that's kind of crisis.
But you see, doctors are not inhibited in
handling a problem where they feel, in their good judgment, they have to
step in and do something. No doctor has ever been indicted.
Are you saying, then, that the law's an empty gesture?
Everybody ignores it, so forget it? Don't work to change it?
No, indeed. I'm saying the law is much more than
an empty gesture. The law is saying, "This is the norm. Parents are
responsible for their kids. They ought to have the right to get in on the
act." That's all the law is saying. The law allows for the unusual
I don't think many kids would like that one.
Depends on what act you're talking
The law, as we propose it, the change that we propose, is
not to take away the choice or the opportunity for reasonable judgment from
doctors, from children, or from their parents. It's to give children a
choice which they don't have under the present law, Dr. Schmidt. Do you
concede that the pre?" sent law does not sanction doctors giving birth
control advice to minors without their parents' consent?
I concede that the law says that, but I also
insist that doctors are able to respond, with no impunity whatsoever, to
this crisis situation. No one has ever . . .
And the crisis includes sexual intercourse.
Yeah. No one has ever been indicted for
O.K. Well, then we really are in agreement. You say don't
bother changing the law because nobody pays any attention to it
No, I say don't bother, I say keep it because the
laws means something. The law means that this is the norm. In the usual
situation, parents ought to be in on what goes on with their
Dr. Schmidt, the business of parents being in on what
goes on with their children, do you think that a parent who is a Jehovah's
Witness should be in on the decision as to whether their child receives -
his child of that parent - receives a blood transfusion?
Yes, I think it's his right to be in on
Do you think it's his right to preclude it, to prevent
the transfusion, which is a belief?
This is specifically a matter for courts to
decide, and this is exactly what happens in the context that we're talking
What would be your opinion?
Physicians are not inhibited. No, this situation
has happened, not with.me personally but in the milieu that I operate in
and, yes, when this is a matter of real necessity, again, a crisis
situation, often with advance permission of the court as a life-saving
measure, let's say, a transfusion is given. Now, this is a . . .
That's another crisis.
O.K. So, young people today . . .
Yeah, I'm sorry.
…you notice that the law governing…
A fast answer. Dr. Schmidt, please. A short answer,
Yes…the law governing transfusions is not
rescinded or the general law regarding parents' approval of medical
procedures just because there is an occasional case where contravening
proper medical treatment might not be good judgment.
I guess it's a matter of what more than half the
teenagers are doing or is now a large crisis.
Mrs. Wiseman, may we let Mr. Hill have another
You've mentioned some of the problems. What other
problems do you see following the change of the law to sanction eliminating
the parent if the minor chooses to do so?
Well, I'm concerned about the precedent it sets
in many other areas beyond this one. Secondly, in broad picture, this seems
to me to say, "The family is dead as a functioning unit in society," I don't
think we're ready to say that. I think most kids respect their parents, and
some of them even like them.
Dr. Schmidt, if intercourse is a crisis, can you name a
situation where you would deny contraceptive care to a teenager?
Yes, I can think of a very good one, one in which
the parent, for a very good reason, such as a parent saying, "Look, I think
we can handle this. I think we can teach this child sexual responsibility in
another way than simply by prescribing contraception." Yes, that's a
A child who came in and said to you, "I am, at present,
having a relationship . . .
…In which I have sexual intercourse…
…and I want you to prescribe a contraceptive. And the
parent gets in touch with you
and says, "I don't want you to." You wouldn't
Yes, that's true.
Thank you very much, Dr. Schmidt. Thank you for
In sum, I believe that my observation would be that,
if the proponents were only teaching me golf instead of counseling children,
I wouldn't have to learn to hit the drive straight; they would go out and
widen the fairway for me.
Thank you. That completes the cases for both sides,
and now it's time for each advocate to summarize the position. Mr. Hill,
will you begin.
Thank you. The proposition tonight affects us all,
and I submit that all should vote "no" on it, but I devote these remarks to
the new young parents and parents-to-be who are with us.
Our opponents do not want you to have the right to know
who is doing what to your child even though you care. You will have no right
to create your own family unit for none exists if the law endorses secret
third-party manipulation of your boy or girl in this vital area of
development. You should vote tonight to retain this right, but mark this
well. History teaches that with every right comes responsibility. You
cannot, in good faith, vote to retain this right unless it also amounts to
your pledge not to cop out, as some of my generation has done, on the
responsibility you have as a parent.
You be your child's counselor and confidant. Share with
him or her your sense of values. You won't have all the answers, but you
will have your child's respect from which he will derive his
You see, these people have given up on you, the new
generation of parents. Well, we haven't. If permitted by law, you may be the
finest parents of the finest children in history. So, pledging yourselves to
the responsibility implied vote, "No " on the proposition. Thank you.
Thank you. Thank you. Mrs. Wiseman also has a
We all say we want our children to grow up to think for
themselves and be responsible for their own behavior, but what do we do to
help them? Many of us are terribly concerned about appearances, about
disquieting and disturbing challenges to our moral codes, and some of us may
really not be sure what is right for our kids. How many of us are
comfortable enough with our own sexuality to talk with our kids about sex,
its joys, it pains, and its responsibilities?
The tragic consequences of teenage sex without effective
birth control are clear. Our proposal tonight is to give our children, so
many of whom are having sex, the information and the means to assume their
responsibilities. Let us, their parents, respect their right to find their
way toward responsible behavior. That is what we must give our children, and
they will build families that are strong.
Thank you. Thank you, Mrs. Wiseman, Mr. Hill. And
now, we turn to you, the audience, and ask you to get involved. What do you
think about tonight's question? Should the law allow birth control treatment
for teenagers without their parents’ consent? Send us your vote, yes or no,
on a letter or a postcard to The Advocates, Box 1973, Boston 02134. The laws
of the states are as varied as the states themselves; and in many states,
the question of the rights of teenagers is a current and hotly debated
subject. How do you want your state to handle this problem? Send your votes
to us, and we will tabulate them and distribute them to your state
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And now, with thanks to our advocates and their very
distinguished guests, we conclude tonight's debate.
The Advocates, as a program, takes no position
on the issues debated tonight. Our job is to help you understand both sides
more clearly. This program was recorded.