City Councilman Carl Stokes has expressed doubts about a Baltimore Health Department plan to begin offering the Norplant birth control device to women as young as 16 because, he says, they might wrongly believe they no longer need to worry about sexually transmitted diseases.
Given the epidemic rates of STDs in Baltimore, especially among teen-agers, and with one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy rates in the country, such concerns are understandable. But Stokes confuses two problems which are in fact separate: prevention of unwanted pregnancies and protecting women against venereal diseases. Condoms, of course, serve both purposes and are already available, along with other contraceptive methods, from city health clinics. Yet it is evident that many sexually active teens, for whatever reason, do not use them.
Obviously Norplant, which is implanted under the skin and remains effective for five years, can't prevent women from jTC engaging in unsafe sex, the main cause of STDS. But it can eliminate the possibility that an unwanted pregnancy will result.
Perhaps the best solution would be for physicians to counsel young women at city public health clinics about how to avoid STDs at the same time they are given the Norplant device. Preventing both STDs and unwanted pregnancies is a matter of educating women about the risks involved and encouraging them to modify their behavior. Norplant could be a useful means for achieving both goals.