School-based health centers are vitally important, and so is birth control access.

FILE PHOTO - Teenagers have been having sex since the dawn of time, despite grownups' best wishes. Our school-based health centers have a duty to protect students' health. Protecting against sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies by providing contraception on request should be no different.This week, the Hillsboro School Board waded into a controversial issue that has generated a lot of buzz and headlines over the past few years.

And we couldn't be happier.

Board members last night approved a plan to grant patients at the district's school-based health center access to birth control. Under the plan, the clinic would be allowed to prescribe and dispense contraceptives to students who ask for it.

If this sounds familiar, it's because we've been here before.

Two years ago, the school board voted 4-3 along gender lines to block contraceptives from being prescribed to students at its health clinic at Century High School. The school board had asked Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center — which runs the clinic — to notify parents when their children asked for the prescription, something Virginia Garcia said it was barred from doing under state and federal law.

Read our story on the 2016 vote, which split the school board between men who voted against contraceptive access and women who voted in favor.

But the makeup of the Hillsboro School Board has changed. With the election of four new school board members last spring, and the resignation of its board chairman in December, all four of the school board members who voted against the plan have left office, and the new school board is considerably more receptive to the idea than its previous incarnation.

The school board's newest member, Yadira Martinez, is open about her support for the plan — although she abstained from voting due to her past involvement with the school-based health center. A dental hygienist with Virginia Garcia who had her first child while a student at Glencoe High School, she said last week she believes the vote is necessary to help students succeed.

Learn more about Yadira Martinez from our profile of Hillsboro's newest school board member last week.

We're glad to see the school board vote in favor of giving students access to birth control that could potentially save lives and prevent unwanted pregnancies.

This is an issue that every community with school-based health centers has had to deal with, and — as expected — the issue has become a lightning rod for many.

The issue has taken on a political overtone in Hillsboro, with progressives and conservatives taking sides on what should be a matter of public health. But the truth is that this will do a lot of good for poor young women in Washington County. For many, the clinic is their primary care center, offering everything from checkups and physicals to treatments for STDs.

Between 2014 and 2016, more than 1,000 teen pregnancies were reported in Washington County — 1,031 to be exact, according to the Oregon Health Authority. Hillsboro alone accounted for 221 of those pregnancies. That's more than 20 percent of the county's teen pregnancies over the past few years.

There are other medical benefits of birth control. Contraceptives are used for a variety of medical reasons, from controlling menstrual cycles to treating acne. We shouldn't keep young girls from getting medical care they need, just because we're uncomfortable with the idea of our daughters having sex.

We need to make sure they're being safe, not increasing the chances they become pregnant.

Most of the arguments we have heard from opponents fall largely in the realm of parents' rights. Parents believe they should know what is going on in their children's lives, and they are right to be feel that way.

We understand the plight of parents who don't wish for their children to be having sex before they're ready. But Oregon law is clear: Children as young as 15 are allowed to make their own medical decisions, without a parent's consent. Children of any age are allowed to access birth control-related services without their parents.

For the school district to continue to block this vital service in the name of "family values" sets the wrong example for students. Oregon mandates that public schools offer comprehensive sex education courses to students, discussing contraception, as well as HIV prevention and abstinence. To turn around and tell students they can't access those same services at their local medical clinic subverts those lessons. It tells young women that birth control isn't necessary after all, which is not only wrong, it's flat-out dangerous.

Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center in Cornelius operates a half-dozen school-based clinics across Washington and Yamhill counties. Its clinics at Beaverton and Willamina high schools already provide contraceptive services to their student patients. The Tigard-Tualatin School District is also re-considering the issue after banning the practice for years.

Some opponents of the plan, including former Hillsboro School Board members, have called for the school-based health center to shut down entirely, rather than continue to divide the community. That's not the first time we've heard this argument. One of the candidates in last year's school board race opined a similar philosophy, saying that the district didn't have a place in providing health care to students at all.

The importance of school-based health centers as a whole cannot be overstated. These centers provide vital and important services to poor students who have no place else to turn for medical care.

Without this service, poor young women must trek to Beaverton or Portland to receive the care they need, a trip which is often impossible for poor students without reliable transportation.

It is a fallacy to argue that without access to birth control, teens will decide to not have sex. Rather, it will lead to risky sexual encounters that could end in pregnancy or disease.

The choice here is clear: Allow Virginia Garcia's doctors and nurses to do their job, so students can get can get back to focusing on more important matters, like being a successful student.

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