The disclosure that Baltimore's health department dispenses birth control pills and condoms at seven city schools has upset some parents and clerics. Schools are supposed to educate, not pass on moral judgments, they contend, adding that dispensing birth control not only crosses that line but sends the dangerous message that teen sex is permissible.
Such concerns are understandable. Changing mores, together with alarming increases in teen pregnancies and venereal disease, are frightening realities. Equally frightening is institutional intervention in moral decisions.
Proponents argue that the issue is health, not morality, that the aim is to temper the fallout from teen sex. That a problem exists is the middle ground on which both sides can agree. Consider these troubling statistics: the rate of birth to teen-aged girls, on the decline after 1973, began climbing again in 1986. The number of births to girls ages 15 to 17 rose 10 percent from 1986 to 1988. That year, Baltimore led the nation in babies born to teens. Last year, nearly a third of the city's gonorrhea cases involved teen-agers.