In case you didn’t know, many Catholic institutions (generally schools) have what is commonly referred to as “no sex” policies for students and unmarried teachers. The spirit of the policy is to discourage premarital sex by unmarried people, wherein if it is proven that a person engaged in sexual activity, the person or persons caught are often expelled or fired. While this seems like a noble cause, it also presents no small moral question.
First, does the policy actually work to keep kids and teachers from having sex outside of marriage? Of course not. If the administration thinks for a second that the pregnant girl is the only person having premarital sex, they are sorely mistaken. I’d bet my house on the fact that there are dozens, scores, maybe even hundreds of high school students in your local Catholic high schools who are having sex. The only one being punished is the girl carrying an unborn human being in her belly. High school students already want to avoid pregnancy for all the other consequences and ramifications included, so how does fear of being expelled change anything? Is fear of being expelled worse than fear of being a single mother? Of possibly not going to college? Of your life changing completely? No. They’ll use the same methods of artificial birth control, because regardless of the expulsion policy, they still want to avoid pregnancy.
Like the no drinking policy, the no sex policy aims to curb bad behavior, however a very different result can, and often does, occur. While a student who drinks, even in excess, will be symptom free within a day or two, a student who becomes pregnant shows an increasingly visible sign which gives evidence to a the existence of a human life. This creates a very different challenge.
As mentioned before, the practical way for administrators to tell that a student or teacher had sex is by pregnancy, the result being that the female is expelled or fired from her job. What happens to the male? Unless he steps forward, not a thing. So essentially what is done is a girl who will admittedly already faces a great challenge as a single mother, will also face the additional challenges of finding a new school mid-semester which will allow a pregnant teen to enroll. In addition, these challenges will be met alone, away from her peers/friends/support system during arguably the most difficult challenge she’s faced to that point.
The female teacher has a very difficult challenge as well. If she loses her job mid-semester (which I have seen on more than one occasion) she will, as a single mother, have to find other employment outside of her chosen profession in order to support her child.
I have heard the defenses by administration that having a pregnant student/unmarried teacher encourages the other girls in the school and encourages some to want to get pregnant because it’s so cute and blah blah blah. Teenage girls are gooey, irrational, emotional creatures who don’t frequently understand the ramifications of their decisions. I get it. The punishment, however, is only administered to those who now have the added complication of the creation of a new human life.
Put yourself in the shoes of one of the parents. Your daughter is pregnant. You wanted her to go to the Catholic high school because it has the best academic record. After high school, she’s going to the big state school in capitol city, will graduate, go to medical school, become a doctor. All that disappears if her high school discovers she’s pregnant. To many parents, this is a nightmare scenario which often ends in the mother dragging her 16 year old daughter to have an abortion. I’ve seen it dozens of times in my years as a sidewalk counselor.
My biggest question is this, how is it this policy a display of justice? Were it only an issue of the student’s academic success, I would understand expulsion as a punishment for premarital sex, however, since a human life is at stake, being Catholic and being pro-life, should we not instead offer the mother compassion and help her with her pregnancy, help her to finish high school and be a source of support?
If the other high schools in town have similar policies, then an expecting mother is doomed to forgo completing her high school education. Would it not be a greater display of justice and compassion for the Catholic schools to go one step further than others and maybe go so far as to offer programs specifically for pregnant students to help them graduate and prepare the life skills necessary to succeed? After all, Catholics create crisis pregnancy centers, charity organizations, and the like for the sake of helping those in need, why would we turn our backs on those right under our noses who are in equally dire need?