The New York Times is reporting that, contrary to expectations, a year-old New York City pilot program that distributed contraceptives like morning-after pills to high school students for free has encountered very little vocal opposition from parents. The program, which originally operated at 14 schools before one of the campuses dropped out, sought to emulate the approach used by privately-operated school-based health clinics which have been serving students in NYC for the past several years.
Although the health clinics have proved successful, they only provide access to about a quarter of the city’s students. The city-run program was supposed to fill this gap, with the schools chosen to participate specifically selected because their students don’t have nearby medical providers and run a higher risk than average for teen pregnancy and acquiring sexually transmitted infections.
Parents were given a chance to opt their children out of the program by returning a signed form to the school. They could also select the kind of reproductive health services their children could and could not receive. According to the data provided by the Department of Education, only about one or two percent of parents actually returned the forms.
The so-called Catch program — which stands for Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Healthcare — was first reported on Sunday in The New York Post. The program began with 5 schools in January 2011 and later expanded to 14. It is down to 13 this year, after Seward Park Educational Campus in Manhattan, which comprises five small schools, was removed because it did not have the resources to handle it, health officials said.
So far, over the course of the last academic year, 567 students were given the emergency contraceptive commonly known as Plan B and 580 were proscribed hormonal birth control pills. The numbers, however, don’t include students who sought consultations from the medical professionals and were referred for service elsewhere.
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.
Students who are older than 17 can get Plan B without a prescription and without parental consent due to recently adopted federal regulations. However, in order for a school to be able to provide reproductive services to its students, some mechanism for obtaining parental consent is required.