- The Washington Times - Friday, August 13, 2004

A private family-planning group has placed computer kiosks at three state college campuses in Wisconsin that allow girls as young as 15 to order free contraceptives.

The group is testing a way to enroll more low-income women in Wisconsin’s Medicaid Family Planning Waiver program.

The program, which began in January, allows women and girls ages 15 to 44 below a certain income level ($17,224 for a single woman without children) to receive free contraceptives.

“The state has set the age range for the waiver, so a 15-year-old could apply,” said Chris Hanke, a registered nurse with Family Planning Health Services of Wausau, the nonprofit organization that bought the $5,000 kiosks and placed them at the campuses.

Kiosk users are allowed to order free condoms and birth-control pills by mail. To do this, users must input personal information, such as income and Social Security number, and authorize the release of their medical records.

Although some have criticized the young age of eligibility, Mrs. Hanke says: “If a 15-year-old girl is looking into this, she probably does need birth control.”

Peggy Hamill, executive director of the 15,000-member Pro-Life Wisconsin, says her organization opposes both the Medicaid family planning waiver and the kiosks.

“We tried to suspend the waiver program [in the state Legislature], but we couldn’t get the votes. Then we tried to remove 15- to 17-year-olds from eligibility,” but the proposed amendment didn’t make it to the floor for a vote, Mrs. Hamill said yesterday.

Pro-Life Wisconsin, an affiliate of the American Life League, objects to adolescents accessing birth control on demand without their parents’ knowledge or consent, she said.

“These young children don’t comprehend everything that’s involved in a sexual relationship,” Mrs. Hamill said. “Medicaid is facilitating all this through this automated system.”

Mrs. Hanke of Family Planning Health Services said there is no evidence that the availability of contraceptives is tied to promiscuity.

“This machine is so valuable,” she added. “We’re putting them on college campuses, because we know so many [students] would qualify” under the income guidelines.

By the end of June, about 40,000 women statewide had enrolled in the family planning waiver program. That is 11.5 percent of the approximately 300,000 women eligible, according to state data.

Participants may order either three months worth of birth-control pills, three months worth of contraceptive patches, or three dozen condoms.

Ms. Hanke said those who qualify also receive medical services, including a pelvic examination, cholesterol testing and screening for sexually transmitted diseases.

“There is probably no other [family planning] kiosk in the nation. Our hope is that this will be a national trend,” she said.

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