News Contraception

New York Schools Provide Teens Access to Emergency Contraception

Robin Marty

Following FDA recommendations, a program in New York City has been providing teens access to emergency contraception in their schools' health offices.

Based on review of all available scientific evidence, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found that emergency contraception is safe enough for over-the-counter access to any woman or girl of childbearing age—a ruling the Obama Administration overturned, resulting in a huge outcry by the public health community. But the administration may want to rethink its decision, now that the results of a New York City pilot program are in.

The program, which is called CATCH or Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Healthcare, has been in effect since January. Through CATCH, campus-based student centers provide birth control pills and emergency contraception. Although data on teen pregnancy rates have not yet been compiled, the teens and their parents have been enthusiastic participants.

Via the New York Times:

Only 1 percent to 2 percent of parents returned a form to opt out of the program. The form allowed them to select any or all of four types of reproductive services that they did not want their child to receive, including emergency contraception, birth control pills, pregnancy testing or condoms.

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In the 2011-12 school year, 567 students received emergency contraception, known as Plan B, and 580 received the birth-control pill Reclipsen through the city program. But health officials said those numbers did not reflect the many students who were referred out for services.

The private programs also offer morning-after pills and do not require parental consent, city officials said. If a parent opted out of the city-run contraception program, his or her child could still go to any community clinic or a school-based health center operated by a private organization and receive the contraception.

Health officials said it was too early to tell if the program was effective in reducing pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.

Other programs across the country have shown that increased access to birth control through school health facilities and more focus on teen pregnancy prevention has been key in reducing both unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, and even talk to students about all options, including abstinence.

“This is about preventing sexually transmitted diseases and teaching about healthy relationships and abstinence and postponing sex, and preventing some high-risk behaviors,” said Ruth Goldbaum, nurse practitioner at the school-based health clinics in Hartford’s three public high schools, which have been providing contraceptives to students for 15 years. “This allows us to bring the kids in and ask them, ‘Is this really what you want to be doing?'”

The program at Windham High began eight years ago, said Shawn Grunwald, coordinator for the school-based health center there.

“The key for us was that not only were we seeing high rates of teen pregnancies, we were also seeing high rates of STDs,” Grunwald said. “Students knew they could get contraceptives, but they could never get to the places that dispense them, and didn’t know how to use them. This provides us an opportunity to provide them with some education.”

In the United States, nearly half of all pregnancies are unintended and teen pregnancy rates remain unacceptably high. It’s clear that New York schools are doing the right thing to provide students with proven means of making responsible choices about their future. After all, isn’t that what education is supposed to be about?

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