Posted Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012, at 12:03 PM
Photo by FRED DUFOUR/AFP/GettyImages
The panty-sniffing brigade has always taken a special interest in teenage girls, both for reasons exactly as icky as you'd imagine and because the social permission for all adults to exert control over and humiliate teenagers gives the sex cops cover. Whether they're trying to prevent a pregnancy, terminating a pregnancy, or going through with a pregnancy, teenagers often have to contend with a bunch of adults who take way too much interest in their sex lives.
Now the ACLU is fighting a public school, Delhi Charter School in Louisiana, that is doing just that. The school has a formal policy banning pregnant students from attending the school, and they reserve the right to forcibly pregnancy-test any student. Here's the policy, in the school's own words:
If an administrator or teacher suspects a student is pregnant, a parent conference will be held. The school reserves the right to require any female student to take a pregnancy test to confirm whether or not the suspected student is in fact pregnant. The school further reserves the right to refer the suspected student to a physician of its choice. If the test indicates that the student is pregnant, the student will not be permitted to attend classes on the campus of Delhi Charter School.
The alarming language giving administrators the green light to test girls suspected of being pregnant suggests an intimidating school atmosphere, not to mention the inappropriate monitoring of students' private lives. The rationale for this monitoring and punishment of pregnancy is to "maintain an environment in which all students will learn and exhibit acceptable character traits." Lest you imagine that the school is simply encouraging young women to be more proactive about contraception use, the hostility toward sexuality is made explicit elsewhere in the handbook, which bans all public displays of affection that could be read as having a "sexual connotation." Hot, hot PDAs include, according to school officials, hand-holding and leaning on another person, though they generously decline to punish the hand-holding of prepubescent children on the grounds that it's not a filthy sex act for the little ones.
The ACLU's main concerns here are the invasion of student privacy and discrimination against students on the grounds of pregnancy. Louisiana is generally a hostile state to the idea that women have a basic right to privacy, garnering them an F rating from NARAL. The state requires parental consent for abortion, eliminating one strategy girls could use to avoid being kicked out of school. In that kind of environment, it's not surprising that a school would think they have ownership over girls' bodies to the point where they can discriminate against them on the status of their uterus. But this policy fails both on the rights front and as a pragmatic solution. The last thing a young woman having a baby needs is to be denied access to education; most teenage mothers already have the deck stacked against them, and adding more cards is pointless cruelty.