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Young Florida athletes won't have to share their menstrual cycle details to compete

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Young athletes in Florida will not have to report details of their menstrual cycles to school officials in order to play high school sports. That decision came today, after weeks of controversy, during an emergency meeting held by Florida athletic officials. NPR's Sarah McCammon is following the story. And, Sarah, this emergency meeting came after weeks of controversy. Explain what happened.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: So we're talking about health forms, Ari, that, you know, athletes have to fill out with their doctors and turn into the school in order to compete. But this really came to a head several months ago after an investigation by the Palm Beach Post, which raised questions about why athletes were being asked for this information about their menstrual cycles and who has access to that data. A flood of public comments came in to the Florida High School Athletic Association, which makes these decisions, and under state law, the association's lawyers had to read all of those comments into the record today. Here's just one of them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: A female's menstrual history is a private matter between herself and her doctor. It has no bearing on her ability to participate in Florida athletics and may in fact discourage participation due to shame and embarrassment.

MCCAMMON: And that's about what it sounded like for more than an hour today. And, you know, these are particularly fraught questions right now because many people are worried about how their reproductive health information may be used, both because of the overturning of Roe v. Wade last year and in Florida, especially, because of Governor Ron DeSantis' support for a ban on transgender athletes in girls' sports.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about these medical forms. What kind of information do they collect and why?

MCCAMMON: In Florida and in many other states, that form for years has included questions about menstruation, things like what age a patient started her period, the last date of her cycle. Historically, in Florida, that section was optional, but there's been discussion recently about making those questions mandatory, and that's really what sparked a lot of this. I spoke with Dr. Judy Simms-Cendan, and she's a pediatric gynecologist at the University of Miami. She says it's good for doctors to ask younger patients about their periods because they can be an important indicator of health. But she says that information is not essential for sports, and it should be kept private.

JUDY SIMMS-CENDAN: And we've had a big push in our state to make sure that parents have autonomy over their children's education. OK. If we're going to be saying these things, I think it's very important that parents also have autonomy over a child's private health information, and it shouldn't have to be required to be reported to the school, especially for something like menstrual history, which has absolutely no bearing on their ability to participate in these activities.

SHAPIRO: OK. So officials in the state reversed course today. What does that mean for young Florida athletes going forward?

MCCAMMON: Yeah. After the hearing, after hearing from the public, the board voted 14-2 to adopt a new set of forms which no longer contain questions about menstruation. Going forward, starting next school year when this takes effect, doctors will just have to submit a one-page form signing off on the athlete's eligibility. That's instead of a longer one with more detailed medical information. One thing, Ari, that got less attention today, this new form that will be submitted to Florida schools requires athletes to list their sex assigned at birth. The old one only asked for sex. And the Florida High School Athletic Association says they've based the new form on recommendations from groups like the American Academy of Pediatrics. I reached out to the association for explanation of this change, and they did not respond. But one reproductive justice advocate in Florida I spoke to today told me she worries this information will be used to target transgender athletes in the future.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Sarah McCammon, thank you.

MCCAMMON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.
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