Some birth-control candidates resent City Hall rhetoric over Norplant 'It makes me mad . . . it's my decision,' says pregnant teen

February 09, 1993|By Sandy Banisky | Sandy Banisky,Staff Writer

While the debate over Norplant goes on at City Hall, some of Baltimore's teen-age mothers and mothers-to-be say they don't need any help from politicians in making choices about birth control.

"It makes me mad, because it's my decision," says Anitra Holland, 18 years old and 8 1/2 months pregnant. A student at the Laurence Paquin School, she plans to use birthcontrol pills after her baby is born.

"It's your body," says Tia Porter, 17, mother of an 8-month-old boy.

The loudest voices out of City Hall so far have been male, which isn't lost on the students or on Dr. Rosetta Stith, the principal at Paquin, an alternative public school for pregnant students or girls who have recently given birth.

"Men tend to be the ones making the policies," she says. "I've always said if men had babies then things would be different."

Norplant, a five-year contraceptive inserted under the skin, has been available in Baltimore's health clinics for nearly two years, since soon after it was introduced in this country.

In December, Dr. Peter Beilenson, the city health commissioner, said he had formed a consortium to help make Norplant available to sexually active teen-age girls.

Last month, 2nd District Councilman Carl Stokes and a group of East Baltimore ministers protested that the city should not be providing Norplant to minors.

Today, Dr. Beilenson will appear at a council hearing to defend the city's policy.

By state law, minors may receive medical help for contraception, mental illness and substance abuse without parental notice.

Suddenly, male council members have been discussing such issues as whether Norplant, when offered in the inner city, is a tool of "genocide." The councilmen also have been questioning Norplant's safety and graphically describing such side effects as menstrual irregularities and bleeding.

"If you're talking about young people, women who are just beginning to have their periods, they may not be able to tell what's normal and what's abnormal," says 4th District Councilman Lawrence Bell.

"This irregular bleeding is a great concern," Councilman Stokes says.

But Dr. Stith dismisses those arguments, saying students are counseled about possible side effects and monitored. She also waves away any talk of racial targeting.

"Genocide?" she asks. "I have girls here from all races. There's no white Norplant and black Norplant. There's just Norplant. It's about preventing pregnancy.

"I'll tell you what's genocidal," Dr. Stith adds. "When girls don't go to school -- that's genocidal."

Dr. Stith says that council members "aren't talking to the population affected. The girls want this. They make up their own minds."

Last month, the first Baltimore City school student received Norplant in a school clinic: Traychel McLeod, 17, a Paquin 12th-grader. The Paquin clinic is the only school facility offering Norplant, but teen-agers may get the contraceptive in other city clinics.

Mother of a 6-month-old girl, Ms. McLeod says she was using birth-control pills -- "not faithfully" -- when she got pregnant.

After two counseling sessions, which explained Norplant's possible side effects and how condoms must still be used to prevent the spread of disease, Ms. McLeod chose Norplant.

"I thought it was a great decision," she says, three weeks after the insert.

"You don't have to think about taking it every day. I want to go to college and I can't do that if I have two kids."

Mary Morris, 15 and due to give birth in June, says she plans to have Norplant after her baby is born. "Every kind of birth control has side effects," says Ms. Morris, who wants to be a pediatrician.

"I don't see any difference. My mom said, 'If that's what you want, I'm behind you.' "

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