An examination of Bachmann’s misleading statements on school-based ‘sex clinics’

A video of Rep. Michele Bachmann’s Sept. 30 remarks on the House floor.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Minnesota’s conservative firebrand Rep. Michele Bachmann grabbed headlines last week when she claimed from the House floor that health-care reform legislation would establish school-based “sex clinics” and allow students to have abortions without notifying their parents.

Bachmann also said that the first school-based clinic in St. Paul increased student pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

Although abortion issues have surfaced in the ongoing fight over health care reform — with opponents seeking to block subsidies on plans that cover the procedure — Bachmann’s statements present a different and misleading twist on the debate.

“…Written into this bill is a provision whereby Planned Parenthood could become the proprietor for school-based clinics in every school across the United States,” Bachmann said in her speech.

“And this health clinic, parents won’t have access to,” she continued. “How do we know that?

“Parents are going to be excluded from Planned Parenthood as they write these clinics because the bill orders that these clinics protect patient privacy in student records,” Bachmann said. “What does that mean?

“It means that parents will never know what kind of counsel and treatment that their children are receiving,” she continued.

“Does that mean that someone’s 13-year old daughter could walk into a sex clinic, have a pregnancy test done, be taken away to the local Planned Parenthood abortion clinic, have their abortion, be back, and go home on the school bus that night? Mom and dad are never the wiser. They don’t know any different.”

Bachmann’s assertions, assumptions and insinuations are misleading on multiple counts.

The health care reform bills would provide grants so clinics can continue providing “comprehensive health assessments, diagnosis, and treatment of minor, acute, and chronic medical conditions and referrals to, and follow-up for, specialty care.”

Bachmann confounds the legislation with laws governing parental involvement in minors’ abortions and also fails to acknowledge that none of the health care bills would change how school-based clinics currently handle reproductive care or what types of organizations can sponsor them.

Planned Parenthood
For example, Bachmann makes a big deal about Planned Parenthood being allowed to take over school-based clinics under health-care reform legislation. While Planned Parenthood is not mentioned in the provision, it is true that it falls under the definition of a “sponsoring facility.”

But this is not new.

Planned Parenthood can already sponsor school-based clinics under current law if the community and school district agree to the arrangement, according to Planned Parenthood and the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care.

Some local Planned Parenthood affiliates are already partnering with school-based clinics to provide reproductive health care, said to Tait Sye, a spokesman for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The health care legislation would do nothing to explicitly increase or decrease Planned Parenthood participation, according to Linda Juszczak, executive director of the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care.

“There is nowhere in this language [in the bill, H.R. 3200] where it says that Planned Parenthood is expected to be a provider,” Juszczak said.

Juszczak added that it would also be unlikely for Planned Parenthood to take a leading role in sponsoring school-based health centers around the country.

“It is not part of their mission, for one,” said Juszczak. “Also, communities may not be likely to allow them to be sponsors, and nobody can force that down anybody’s throat. Even if there is a federal law allowing it, the community has to step in and allow [the creation of the school-based health center] and frame it.”

This speaks to Bachmann’s second point, when she claims that the legislation will exclude parents from school-based clinics and “parents will never know what kind of counsel or treatment that their children are receiving.”

This statement misrepresents the legislation.

The House bills explicitly state that the clinics must follow federal, state and local laws governing patient privacy, student records, and parental or guardian consent.

Thus, if parents are restricted from school-based clinics or their child’s reproductive decisions, that is due to state and local laws on these issues and not the health-care reform legislation, which simply states that the clinics must follow the law as they already do.

There are currently about 2,000 school-based clinics in the United States, according to the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care. School-based clinics have been around for over 30 years. The centers mostly provide primary care for underserved minority populations, but the laws and regulations governing them vary widely by location.

For instance, more than two-thirds of school-based health clinics surveyed by the National Assembly on School-Based Health Care are prohibited from dispensing contraception, a policy that is most often determined by the school district. About 62 percent provide on-site treatment of sexually transmitted diseases. Meanwhile, clinics in some states like Louisiana are not allowed to counsel students on abortion, while other states like Minnesota do allow counseling in certain situations.

(The majority of services provided [PDF] at school-based health care centers have nothing to do with reproductive health issues and can include dental care, immunizations, nutrition counseling, screenings, asthma treatment, sports physicals, and mental health care).

Additionally, 35 states require parental involvement [PDF] in a minor’s decision to have an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Six states have passed laws that have subsequently been blocked by the courts and nine states have no laws on the book.

In Minnesota, both parents must be notified of the abortion before it happens unless a judicial bypass is obtained, according to the Guttmacher report. Exceptions are made for medical emergencies and minors facing abuse, assault, incest or neglect.

Moreover, school-based clinics are usually even more restrictive than the state law, according to Gloria Ferguson, program director of Health Start, which is part of a larger nonprofit that runs most of the school-based clinics in the Twin Cities.

“We are more conservative than the law in how we approach parents,” Ferguson said.

The Health Start school-based clinics send consent forms to parents every year to explain their services and give parents a choice of what services they want their children to use. The choices include these options: student may receive any and all services, student may receive all services except contraceptive counseling and birth control prescriptions, or the student can’t receive any services.

If a parent does not return the consent form and the student is a minor, then the clinic can only provide services that are specified under Minnesota’s minor consent law. Those include pregnancy testing and prenatal care, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, birth control and some specified mental health services, according to Ferguson.

Legally, school-based clinics in Minnesota can give students referrals for an abortion or prenatal care without parental consent.

“But, again, if any parent is concerned that we would do that, all they would have to do is let us know,” Ferguson said.

“Any parent could say, ‘Don’t see my kid,’ and then we would not provide child services.”

Even with the referral, a minor would still be legally bound to notify both  parents before proceeding with the abortion.

The case of a 13-year-old
In her speech, however, Bachmann suggests a scenario in which a 13-year-old goes into a school-based center, has a pregnancy test done, is taken to a local Planned Parenthood clinic, has an abortion, is taken back to school, and rides the bus home that night without her parents knowing what has happened during the day.

Again, this statement is misleading because Bachmann implies that the health-care reform legislation will somehow create this situation when, in fact, current state and local laws determine if this can legally happen or not.

In Minnesota, for example, if the student had not already obtained a court bypass, this could not legally happen, according to Ferguson. And even if the student had obtained the court bypass, Ferguson added, an employee of the school-based clinic would not be allowed to transport a student off school grounds to an abortion clinic during the school day because of agency policy and school rules.

“We would never put a kid in our car and take them to an abortion clinic,” Ferguson said. “That is our agency policy. We do not drive students anywhere. We [also] can’t dismiss students from school. That has to be done by the school nurse or by an administrator, [according to] school rules.”

If, however, a student already knew she was pregnant and had obtained a court order, Ferguson said that the school health-care center could help her to arrange transportation to the abortion clinic and that the school could potentially allow her to leave during the school day.

Therefore, there may be specific circumstances where the basic premise of Bachmann’s statement could hold true under current laws and regulations in the country. But Bachmann failed to provide those details in her speech, implying something much broader instead.

MinnPost asked Bachmann this week to explain the rationale behind this series of statements.

Bachmann spokesman Dave Dziok said that since parental notification is not required in at least 13 states, “a pregnant 13-year-old could visit her taxpayer-funded school health clinic and they could refer her to Planned Parenthood, receive an abortion and her parents would never be notified.”

“The problem is that there are no federal parental notification rules currently on the books,” Dziok said.

What Dziok said is true: In certain states it would be possible for a pregnant minor to receive a referral to have an abortion from a school-based clinic and then have the procedure done without notifying her parents, as long as there were no local laws or regulations restricting that process.

It is also true that there are no federal parental notification rules on abortion.

But Bachmann did not present her argument this way on the House floor. Instead, she suggested that health-care reform legislation would somehow change current law governing school-based clinics and then illustrated this with an extreme example that she failed to put in context.

St. Paul example
Bachmann also criticized the first school-based clinic in St. Paul, which was started in the 1970s at the former Mechanics Arts High School.

Bachmann said: “One of the very first school sex clinics that was put into this country was in St. Paul, Minnesota. And it was told to the families and the parents that this would actually reduce pregnancy. Of course we knew it wouldn’t reduce pregnancy. It increased pregnancy. It increased sexually transmitted diseases. It was a disaster for young women in St. Paul public schools.”  

That statement can’t be supported by research.  

In 1980, a study done on the Mechanic Arts High School reported that pregnancies declined the year after the school-based clinic launched.

However, a subsequent 1993 study critiqued the methodology and conclusions of the 1980 study. Essentially, the 1993 study found that the 1980 study had used a crude counting method, leaving the possibility that some pregnancies were not counted. It also did not prove that the counted pregnancies decreased because of the school-based center, according to Dr. Christopher Reif, the former medical director of Health Start.

Since then, there have been studies in other school systems looking at the effect of school-based clinics on birth rates, sexual activity and contraception use. The research shows that school-based-clinics do not typically increase sexual activity (according to self-reported student data) and lead to an increased use of contraceptives and the detection and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, according to a comprehensive 2007 study on the topic. Reif said it’s unclear what effect clinics have on student birth rates, with some studies [PDF} showing decreased teen birth rates and others showing no significant impact.

“Most studies in adolescent reproductive health — including those in schools — cannot document that pregnancy rate or birth rate were reduced or increased as a result of the clinical activity alone,” Reif said.

Additionally, studies on teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease rates are not comprehensive because schools do not require testing of students.

“Thus, to base any argument about the effectiveness of school clinics on a single research paper from 1980 is misleading, unscientific and capricious,” said Reif.

Bachmann spokesman Dziok said Bachmann had based her statement on the 1980 study.

“Advocates of school-based clinics cite this school in particular in how clinics lower teenage pregnancy rates,” Dziok wrote in an email. “They see this school as a success. However, the study they refer to called ‘School-Based Health Clinics: An Emerging Approach to Improving Adolescent Health and Addressing Teenage Pregnancy’ actually shows a drop in the teen birth rate rather than the teen pregnancy rate. In the study, school officials themselves said they could not document the decrease in pregnancies. It can be argued that the reduction in the number of births listed in the study can be attributed to more teenagers obtaining abortion services.”

But the 1980 study did not measure abortion rates, and the 1993 critique reported that the 1980 study could not conclude why the birthrate dropped.

Additionally, the 1980 study did not measure the rate of sexually transmitted diseases or what might have affected those numbers.

Cynthia Dizikes covers Minnesota’s congressional delegation and reports on issues and developments in Washington, D.C. She can be reached at cdizikes[at]minnpost[dot]com.

You can also learn about all our free newsletter options.

Comments (14)

  1. Submitted by karl karlson on 10/08/2009 - 12:21 pm.

    Why don’t you just say Bachmann is “lying” instead of the euphamistic “misleading?”

  2. Submitted by Michael Zalar on 10/08/2009 - 12:42 pm.

    Attempts to create unreasonable fear to promote a political position can, in general be considered terrorism. This is usually dont through violent means, however it is my belief that the intentional dissemination of misinformation, if not outright lieing, can also be considered an act of terrorism.
    I suggest that in order to differentiate this sort of attack from physical attacks (such as suicide bombings) we class this as Info-Terrorism.
    It seems evident from the above article, as well as other statements made by Rep Bachmann, is intentionally attempting to incite fear as a political weapon, that is, she is engaging in Info-Terrorism.
    Hopefully, the public will become aware of this, and class her as the Terrorsist that she, at least in my eyes, appears to be.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 10/08/2009 - 01:22 pm.

    …The bill doesn’t say that explicitly….that’s already happening… long as the child delivers our consent form and returns it signed by their parents, they have a chance to “opt out”….we dispute those findings… can’t prove that….they say it’s unlikely…..

    Whew-wee! You sure examined the heck out of those “misleading statements”…um, except for maybe identifying a single statement Rep. Bachmann made that is misleading.

  4. Submitted by Jeremy Powers on 10/08/2009 - 01:29 pm.

    Essentially the entire Karl Rove Republican playbook is based on fear. Facts don’t really enter into this philosophy or its implementation, only the ab ility to make people afraid. Because when they are afraid, they are willing to let other people do as they wish as long as they are promised protection. So we have to scare seniors into thinking that we will put them to death if we have universal health care. We have to make veterans feel they will go back to the bad old days of the VA – never mind it is the model for socialized medicine in half the world. We have to make people feel afraid in their homes and places of work so we can suspend civil rights. We have to, in classic “1984” strategy, compare the basic right of health care to the worst mass murderer in history. Fear, fear, fear. However, I don’t think the American public – certainly not the informed, intelligent part of it – are falling for it any more.

    Bachmann sounds like a nut. She acts like a nut. She looks like a nut. She is a nut.

  5. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 10/08/2009 - 01:31 pm.

    Michael Zalar: If not “info-terrorism,” then at least untrue, inflammatory information that is bound to produce fear and/or resentment and/or hatred among its recipients.

    Some of whom have shot abortion doctors or politicians or set off bombs in Oklahoma City and elsewhere.

    Dwight Eisenhower warned us in the 1950s not just about the military-industrial-complex, but about the rise of extremism and extremist groups within the Republican Party. And, wow, are they around today, still calling themselves “conservative.”

  6. Submitted by TJ Pavey on 10/08/2009 - 01:41 pm.

    The fact that anyone still treats the words coming out of Bachman’s mouth as anything more than uninformed or blatant lies is surprising to me. We severely need a redistricting by geography instead of that mess that is Bachman’s district. That aside…

    This fearmongering is just so sickening right now. Look at the health care debate. Instead of having actual discussions of economics, health care outcomes, doctor patient relationships, and access to care, we have “discussions” about death panels. How can we as a society make informed decisions if our politicians need to lie to get our vote.

    If a politician needs to lie this extensively then their point of view is obviously too weak to be supported by facts. Making the other side the obvious right answer.

  7. Submitted by Mary Tambornino Tambornino on 10/08/2009 - 03:25 pm.

    How come your’re so reasonable, when Bachman clearly is not. And how come you “give credance” to her inflammatory remarks by recouting what she said then debunking them rather than the other way around. Surely you are a clever enough journalist to give the “debunking” first, and then what was said to cause that.

    Also I agree with Karlson that she is lying, and while I know that laws exit probhiting suggesting that she is lying, but misleading is such a wimpy word. It is not match for her imflammatory remarks.

  8. Submitted by Karl Bremer on 10/08/2009 - 03:41 pm.

    Finally, some actual local fact-checking of Michele Bachmann’s extremist talk rather than just a replay of her lies. Good work, Cynthia–thanks for this!

  9. Submitted by Jeff Kline on 10/08/2009 - 04:19 pm.

    I don’t put a lot of faith in any stories on here that pertain to Mrs Bachmann. Truth be told; on a number of instances where assertions were made that she lies, or bends or doesn’t know anything of what shes talking about has been many times proven to be false. Several times it’s been made public on that news channel that you folks absolutely hate because they tell ALL of the story, that some of the comments from her are about legitimate parts in this upcoming “bill”. And fact is none of these Bozo’s are reading this thing, they fully intend on just passing it lock stock and barrel without so much as turning a page.

    At least Fox and some other patriotic news sites are going to the trouble of actually reading through the bill and finding all these tidbits that are very challenging to not only our economy, but also to all of us constitutionally. But; you folks don’t like it. I guess it really is true what we learned growing up. Truth hurts.

  10. Submitted by Howard Miller on 10/08/2009 - 08:59 pm.

    Representative Bachmann consistently takes on nonexistent problems … the better to claim her effectiveness in preventing moral decay and social disaster afterwards

  11. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 10/09/2009 - 06:55 am.

    If not for Bachmann, who else would you all have to mock? Who would be your second choice?
    I don’t live in the sixth, but the voters there really like her. After all is said and done those folks in the sixth have chosen her to represent them. Until someone beats Bachmann in an election by putting up a credible candidate your mocking is a moot point.. She resonates with the folks that vote in the sixth. Game over.

  12. Submitted by Wally Carr on 10/09/2009 - 06:59 am.

    So, to Bachmann’s defenders: where does the bill say what she says it does? Remember that she was rising against the bill. Usually that means you talk about what you are rising against.

    For example, if the bill does not change the status quo for parental notification, how is a discussion of parental notification relevant?

    Finally, to those of good will: have you ever noticed how Bachmann’s charges, as well as those of her supporters, often seem to depend upon the evil intent of their enemies?

    For example: why in the world would school clinic personnel even want to whisk a 13 year old away for a clandestine abortion? Why would a school nurse want to keep an abortifacient in her desk drawer? Unless one ascribes evil motives to school personnel, the whole thing falls apart.

    Having raised two kids through K-12, I have to report that every school employee I ever met seemed to have the opposite attitude: a sincere interest in the well-being of the child and my family.

  13. Submitted by Shawn Foxx on 10/12/2009 - 03:29 am.

    Just like all of the other Neo-cons, their way of creating fear by telling half-truths. Bachmann’s way of getting her point across (as always) is to distort facts by not telling the whole story, leaving out the exact details that actually crush her point into splinters. Example: The lovely Michelle Bachmann would explain to us all that “The sky is blue because God chose that color as the prettiest color to decorate or heaven.” Yes, that is fictional, but here is the half-truth play again. Yes, Michelle, the sky is blue….

  14. Submitted by J R Brown on 10/15/2009 - 09:33 am.

    From my perspective Michele Bachmann is right on. Planned Parenthood is not much more than an abortion mill. It has no business being within 1000 ft of any school. Like ACORN, Planned Parenthood, is protected by the Democrat party. They are in an extension of the party, but funded by taxpayer dollars. How convenient for them.

    Reading here you would think Ms Bachmann was the first politician to embellish the facts to make a point. I am sure Ms Pelosi would never do that!!

Leave a Reply