Controversy is swirling over the city’s revelation that the morning-after pill can be given to girls in public schools as young as 14. What’s even more shocking is the fact that parents are not being notified when students are given the drug, also known as Plan B.
The city’s Department of Health (DOH) reports that over 7,000 teen girls become pregnant by age 17, with 90 percent of those pregnancies unplanned. The DOH claims that the city plans to lower that number by making Plan B more accessible in schools.
Since January 2011, the DOH and some city schools have been participating in a pilot program called “Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Health” (CATCH). The program allows DOH doctors to give girls oral or injectable forms of birth control.
The program reportedly began in five public high schools and is now at 50. Plan B has been given to girls as young as 14. Girls can inform a school nurse that they have had unprotected sex within the last three days before getting a pregnancy test. Plan B is administered if the test is negative. However, parents who don’t want their children to participate in the program can sign a statement banning them from it. Only 1 to 2 percent of parents have banned their children from the program.
The news made national headlines, igniting the ongoing discussion on sex among teenagers and teen pregnancy. According to a report by the Guttmacher Institute, Black teens are most likely to become pregnant, with 134 per 1,000 girls becoming pregnant. Teen pregnancy accounts for 20 percent of all unplanned pregnancies annually.
During his weekly radio address, Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the city’s use of the CATCH program, stating that it has successfully brought down teen pregnancy rates in the city.
“It’s not good for the mother and it’s not good for the baby,” he said. “And I’m sure there’s a Nobel Prize winner who was born that way someplace that turned out just fine, but the statistics are not there.”
In a statement, the DOH said that the CATCH program is one way that it’s trying to reduce teen pregnancy in the city. No plans have been announced to implement the program citywide.
“We are committed to trying new approaches to improve a situation that can have lifelong consequences,” the DOH said.
While supporters of the program say it makes Plan B more accessible, critics say the CATCH program promotes teen sex, is wrong for not notifying parents about whether their children are sexually active and could encourage the spread of sexually transmitted diseases caused by unprotected sex.
The New York City Parents’ Choice Coalition has been one of the key groups voicing outrage over the program. Last week the coalition held a rally on the steps of City Hall to protest the CATCH program. Among those against the CATCH program are state Sen. Ruben Diaz and former Assemblyman Michael Benjamin.
In an open letter to the mayor and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, the group calls the program “deceptive” and claims that the DOE and DOH are disconnecting parents from their children during a critical situation that youth are faced with. The coalition has started robo-calling citizens to speak out against the program.
“In reality, CATCH should be replaced with proven risk-avoidance programs that will encourage adolescents to wait at least until they are adults before becoming sexually active,” the letter said. “But parents, not the school system, should decide the health care options for their children. We strongly urge that you suspend the CATCH pilot program, respect the rights of parents to make affirmative health care decisions involving their children and create a permanent parents advisory council to advise city agencies on how best to engage parents.”
New York City Parents Union President Mona Davis pointed out that while city public schools have been giving out condoms for years, giving out contraception drugs is not the same thing.
“This is having 14- to 17-year-old children ingest hormonal, chemical drug cocktails without notifying their parents. And that is wrong because if anything were to happen to any of those children, the parents will have to deal with the consequences,” she said.