Monday, September 24, 2012

Emergency contraception: What's the real emergency here?

NYC schools give out morning-after pills to students — without telling parents

  • Last Updated: 10:51 AM, September 24, 2012
  • Posted: 12:29 AM, September 23, 2012
The Department of Education is giving morning-after pills and other birth-control drugs to students at 13 high schools, The Post has learned.
School nurse offices stocked with the contraceptives can dispense “Plan B” emergency contraception and other oral or injectable birth control to girls without telling their parents — unless parents opt out after getting a school informational letter about the new program.
CATCH — Connecting Adolescents To Comprehensive Health — is part of a citywide attack against the epidemic of teen pregnancy, which spurs many girls — most of them poor — to drop out of school.
JUST SAY NO: Annette Palacios says that at 15 she’s too young for sex, while mom Pania laments not getting a parental opt-out letter.
Helayne Seidman
JUST SAY NO: Annette Palacios says that at 15 she’s too young for sex, while mom Pania laments not getting a parental opt-out letter.
While Big Apple high schools have long supplied free condoms to sexually active teens, this is the first time city schools have dispensed hormonal birth control and Plan B, which can prevent pregnancy if taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex.
It might be a nationwide first as well. The National Association of School Nurses could cite no other school district supplying Plan B.
So far, during an unpublicized pilot program in five city schools last year, 567 students received Plan B tablets and 580 students received Reclipsen birth-control pills, the city Department of Health told The Post.
This fall, students can also get Depo-Provera, a birth-control drug injected once every three months, officials said.
Oral and injectable contraceptives require prescriptions, which, in the CATCH program, are written by Health Department doctors.
Plan B is typically sold as an over-the-counter medication, but those under age 18 need a prescription. For the CATCH program, students can tell a trained school nurse they had unprotected sex. The student will then get a test to see if she is already pregnant; if not, the prescription is issued and she can walk out with the pill.
The city expanded CATCH to 14 schools with more than 22,000 students over the past year. Officials dropped one, Seward Park Campus in lower Manhattan, because CATCH was overwhelming the medical office.
Parents at the 14 schools were sent letters informing them about CATCH. Parents may bar their kids from getting pregnancy tests or contraceptives if they sign and return an opt-out statement.
If they do not, schools can confidentially give the contraception without permission.
An average 1 to 2 percent of parents at each school have returned the opt-out sheets, said DOH spokeswoman Alexandra Waldhorn.
At the High School of Fashion Industries in Chelsea, where 85 percent of the students are girls, ninth-graders were told about CATCH at summer orientation. Some welcomed it.
“I don’ t want to be a young kid who gets pregnant and can’t find a job,” one cautious freshman told The Post.
A 14-year-old pal agreed. “I would go to the nurse without telling my parents, and I would ask for help,” she said.
But sophomore Annette Palacios, 15, outside the school with her mom, said parents should give consent in case their children are “allergic” to the drugs.
“Girls shouldn’t be sexually active at that age,” she added.
Her mom, Pania, complained that she got no opt-out letter — and does not want Annette to secretly get Plan B or birth-control pills from the nurse.
“Parents should know if their daughter is pregnant,” she said.
Teacher Rosa Chavez applauded CATCH, saying she had two pregnant students last year. Getting knocked up, she said, “is not cool and not accepted among peers.”
But Chavez worries that giving girls Plan B emergency contraception might encourage careless sex. “If they made a mistake, they could still do something about it,” she said.
About 28 percent of city students entering ninth grade have already had sex, and more than half are sexually active before completing high school, according to city data.
But some school insiders dislike the CATCH program’s lack of parental involvement and fear medical complications.
“We can’t give out a Tylenol without a doctor’ s order,” said a school staffer. “Why should we give out hormonal preparations with far more serious possible side effects, such as blood clots and hypertension?”
The other CATCH schools are: Adlai Stevenson and Grace Dodge in The Bronx; Boys and Girls, Clara Barton, W.H. Maxwell Career and Technical Education, Abraham Lincoln and Paul Robeson in Brooklyn; John Adams, Newcomers, Queens Vocational and Technical, and Voyagers in Queens; and Port Richmond on Staten Island.
7,000 girls under age 17 got pregnant last year citywide
90% of those pregnancies were unplanned
64% were aborted
2,200 became moms by age 17. About 70 percent drop out of school.
Source: NYC Department of Health

Rather than summarize the article I read with this morning's coffee, I decided to copy and paste it directly into this post.  And I have decided to refrain from commenting. For now.  And for several reasons.   First of all, I am not a parent.  What's more, I am not the parent of a teenage girl (though I tip my hat to anyone who is/has been/will be, given that I do recall myself at 13 and am often retroactively horrified by so much of my own 13 year-old girl behavior).  Second, I have pretty strong feelings about the meanings of "consent," and rather than dump them here and then ask "What do you think?" I decided I wanted to see what other people (parents and non-parents) thought first.
So I am just wondering - is providing this pill to young women the same as distributing condoms (the latter of which is already happening) to young men? Is there a sexual/gender-based imbalance here, in terms of girls vs. boys, when it comes to reproductive rights and resources?  Do we, as a culture, seem to monitor girls more closely because they are the carriers of these unborn children, and, at least statistically, continue to report almost triple the rates of sexual assault and rape than do their male counterparts?  Which is not to suggest that all teenage pregnancies are the result of rape, but which does then beg more questions, such as: What is consent?  Whose consent counts?  And how is it given?

Finally, do non-parents have any role or voice in this conversation at all?  Are we all responsible and accountable to  our youth, or is this the point at which such issues become a private matter between children and their parents, possibly their doctors, and maybe their schools?

What's the deal?  What's really happening?  What is birth control actually controlling? And what do you think about it?  
Til next time,
~ Hasky

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