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Opinion, Comment & Reviews
  ECPs in Schools
By Ellie Lee

This week it was announced that some schools are to provide female pupils aged under 16 with emergency contraception. It was reported that health authorities have agreed to the measure as part of a continuing programme of measures to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies in Britain. According to the Sunday Times, ECPs are being dispensed in state schools in east Kent, Oxfordshire, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire, and at least three other authorities are preparing similar policies.

The Government has argued that local health authorities are responsible for deciding whether or not to implement the measure. The Department of Health has said that issuing ECPs to girls under 16 was a matter for healthcare trusts. A spokesman for the Department said: 'It is up to teams of local health professionals to make sure that they are working within the legal framework for providing contraception to teenagers that have been in place for fifteen years and it is down to individual schools to work with local health professionals to determine the role of the school nurse'.

'Pro-family' groups have objected to the policy. Anna Lines, of Family and Youth Concern, argued: 'It's a quick fix that will give youngsters the go-ahead to engage in sex at an even earlier age.' Writing in the Times, Jasper Gerard echoed such fears about the provision of ECPs encouraging 'loose morals' among the young. He claimed that: 'All but the most dubious West Coast cult and perhaps Gary Glitter would agree that sex before physical and emotional maturity - however defined - is a Bad Thing'. He claimed that: 'There is a strong, simple objection to making the Pill easily available: that abortion is wrong', and that the Tories should make up their minds and decide if they are 'fundamentalist on these moral issues' or libertarians.

It is sometimes difficult to fathom exactly what it is that informs the opinions of those such as Gerard. Surely, if he thought for one moment about his own sexual history, and that of most people currently in their 30s and 40s, he would recognise that in fact most of us first had sex before we were 'emotionally mature'. But we have not been 'put at risk' or 'damaged' by this, and it is not something most of us regret doing. To concede this point does not make one a 'West Cost liberal' (or Gary Glitter) but someone who has not completely forgotten what it is like to be young, and experience 'growing up'.

Where does Mr Gerard think 'emotional maturity' comes from? It is surely not something which emerges through some mysterious process -- one day you're emotionally immature, and the next you're not. It comes about gradually as a result of interacting with, and learning about, other people. There is a whole range of experiences that constitute aspects of this process of 'growing up', and this can include having sex. Such sexual encounters are part of the process of developing into a mature person, it seems rather illogical to suggest that it is possible to be 'emotionally mature' already at the point at which a person first has sex.

When young people start having sex (which, contrary to the current fixation with 'under-age sex' happens first, on average, at 16 for boys and 17 for girls) they are trying it out, and experimenting. It is often not something which is planned for, and which happens in an 'emotionally mature' way in the context of a 'stable relationship' (which is precisely why providing emergency contraception, which is taken after sex, rather than before it, is so useful for teenagers). Neither is something we should fear, or get anxious about, but rather accept as an important aspect of the transition from childhood to adulthood.

From Jasper Gerard's perspective, young people will always appear 'too young' to be having sex, because they are not already 'mature people' like he is. But that's precisely the point about teenage sex -- those who do it are teenagers, and have not yet developed the full range of skills and attributes associated with adulthood. Gerard should forget about demanding that the young only have sex when he considers them to be 'ready to handle it' emotionally, because this objective can never be achieved. Emotional maturity is something that people learn through experience, and trying to stop them having experiences, sexual ones included, will simply delay the process. Given his apparent amnesia about life as a youth, he should just get on with his own, grow-up life, and stop trying tell those less than half his age how to live theirs.

'Morning after pill from schools', BBC News on-line, 8 January 2001.
'Under-age girls to be given morning-after pill at school', Adam Nathan, The Sunday Times, 7 January 2001.
'Pill substitute', PA News, 8 Januray 2001.
'It's a policy on bike sheds the nation needs, not a morning-after Pill', Jasper Gerard, The Times, 8 January.

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