New York City Parents Debate Plan B Birth Control in Schools

Some parents are speaking out on New York City's pilot program that allows some schools to give out controversial "morning after" birth control pills, referred to as "Plan B." The debate reflects a national divide in opinion about how parents and schools should relate to teens and pregnancy. Ben Yakas of The Gothamist reports that the pilot program has the support of statistics, which show teen pregnancy in the city dropping.

But pragmatic success isn't everything, said Mona Davids, president of the New York Parents Union. The South Africa-born mother of two has fought for the right for parents to establish Parent-Teacher Associations at charter schools and to protest the mayor's appointment choice for Chancellor of Schools. Now she is speaking out on parents' rights to maintain knowledge and control of minor children's health care.

"I'm in shock," Mona Davids, president of the NYC Parents Union and mother of a 14-year-old, told the Post. "What gives the mayor the right to decide, without adequate notice, to give our children drugs that will impact their bodies and their psyches? He has purposely kept the public and parents in the dark with his agenda."

While the pilot program has been given some publicity, Davids was referring to the news that more schools are participating than the public had been aware of. A report in September estimated the number of schools at around a dozen, but the New York Post is now reporting that it's more like 40. Mayor Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn have both made public statements in support of the program.

Health Commissioner argues that the program is necessary for public health, as well as for the students' own personal health:

"Two things are happening here — teens are using more contraceptives, and they're also delaying sexual activity," said Health Commissioner Tom Farley, who lauded the city's morning-after pill program as one of the keys to bringing down the pregnancy rate. "It shows that when you make condoms and contraception available to teens, they don't increase their likelihood of being sexually active. But they get the message that sex is risky."

Farley's department released statistics showing that their initiatives may be working. Teen pregnancy rates are down 27% over a decade. The Gothamist explains:

For every 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19, 72.6 got pregnant in 2010, down from 98.8 in 2001. The rate was 43.1 for girls 15 to 17, and 114.5 for 18- and 19-year-olds. Girls were using the Pill or other long-term birth control methods 26.9% in 2011, up from 17.3% in 2009.

But some parents are still concerned, pointing to loss of parental involvement and ethical concerns. In the pilot program, parents can opt their children out of the service, but some have said that the forms weren't provided. Since the "Plan B" pill is a more complicated medicine than pills for headache and pain relief, they ask why the school has more leeway to provide them without notice or permission. Davids adds another concern, pointing out that school-based health centers tend to be placed in poor minority communities that raise the possibility of racial bias.

The program's defenders point out that the health centers are placed where the need is, and often where the teen pregnancy rate is highest. These may be minority areas:

But as Estelle Raboni, director of Changing the Odds, an anti-teen pregnancy program at the Morris Heights Health Center, put it: "The Bronx still has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country."

For Plan B's advocates, the proof is in the dropping pregnancy rates, even if some parents are not persuaded.

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