Earlier this week, The New York Post dropped the “exclusive” that nurses at 13 New York City public schools can dispense the morning-after pill and provide oral and injectable birth control, like Depo Provera and the Pill — “without parents’ permission.”
In reality, the whole thing is a non-story that’s been overblown by the Post: parents received an informational letter about the CATCH program (Connecting Adolescents To Comprehensive Health) and its dispensing of birth control and were given the opportunity to opt their daughters’ out at the beginning of the school year. So to imply there’s some kind of subterfuge whilst saying this is all going on “without telling their parents” is misleading. Parents were told and if they didn’t want their child included in the program, they could opt out. Last year, this pilot program dispensed Plan B and birth control pills and this year they are dispensing Depo Provera as well. To get Plan B from a school nurse, the female student must first take a pregnancy test; then she is issued the Plan B. Kids using these pregnancy-prevention resources are kept confidential from the parents. But the scaremongering Post — and other conservative news sites that picked up the story — makes it sound as if the Board of Education is skulking around, aiding teen girls (maybe your daughter!) who want to hide from their parents that they’re having bad, bad, bad sex.
Alas, the cold, harsh reality that NYC is recognizing that teenagers are having sex. Increased access to contraception can only help thwart unwanted pregnancies — and empower young women to take their reproductive decisions into their own hands. CATCH is primarily targeting girls from poor backgrounds who are most at risk for teen pregnancy, which I don’t think I need to explain is a nationwide epidemic. Last year, 7,000 girls under age 17 got pregnant throughout New York City and 90 percent of those pregnancies were unplanned; 64 percent of those total pregnancies were aborted. And most startlingly, about 70 percent of girls who were pregnant before age 17 dropped out of school.
Of course, I believe every women and girl has a right to make reproductive decisions about her own body. Your sex organs do not belong to your parents, to your boyfriend, to the government, to society; they belong to you. This is why I disagree strongly with parental notification and parental approval laws for abortion. I can understand why some parents believe, on principle, that they should be notified or to even have to give permission for their child to go on birth control or use Plan B. It’s difficult to decipher whether that concern comes from the belief they own their child or whether they are panicking that their child is sexually active (which, of course, breeds a culture in which kids are “really scared” to ask for birth control). Either way I don’t agree with the naysayers: anyone who is sexually active should be making those decisions for themselves with the aid of their health care provider — which in this case, is through their school nurse. As for the supposed necessity of notification, it’s not like Planned Parenthood doesn’t call up parents if a teen gets an appointment to go on the Pill. It’s not like the CVS pharmacy calls up your mama if you go in and buy condoms.
Oh yes, let’s talk about condoms! NYC public schools (and probably some private schools — that would likely be decided on a school-by-school basis) distribute condoms in the nurse’s office or in the school psychologist’s office. Getting condoms at school was controversial when the rubbers were first introduced. But dispensing Plan B and the Pill — in addition to whatever parents’ rights arguments people might make — carries the additional moral panic of being specifically about female students. You’d better believe some of the reason people object to this is because they think it’s a better idea to cross your fingers and hope that hormone-ravaged teens just don’t have sex instead. Because that works so well in Missisissippi, which has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the whole U.S.
When teen pregnancies drop in these schools, we’ll see who is right and who is wrong about this public health initiative that I’m proud to say is in my city.