‘Plan B’ in NYC Schools

Back to October 2012 Ed Reporter

‘Plan B’ in NYC Schools

In addition to condoms already available at all New York City public high schools, “the morning after pill” Plan B, and Depo-Provera the every three months birth control injection, are now available at 13 NYC schools to girls as young as 14. The CATCH program (Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Health), designed to combat teen pregnancy, began in five schools during the 2011-12 school year and expanded to 13 schools for 2012-13.

Deborah Kaplan, assistant commissioner of the health department’s Bureau of Maternal, Infant and Reproductive Health, told NBC News, “We’ve had no negative reaction to the CATCH program. We haven’t had one objection. We’ve just had the opt-outs.” However, once the program was publicized by an exclusive New York Post story on September 23, that changed.

The program quietly hummed along before exposure, but it and New York City Schools are now facing “widespread opposition and even potential legal backlash” according to the Daily Beast. Mona Davids, president of the New York City Parents Union, said, “They can’t even give our kids aspirin or Motrin without informed [parental] consent. This is a chemical hormonal drug cocktail.” Davids’ group is preparing litigation to stop the program. The New York City Parents Choice Coalition has protested on City Hall steps demanding that the CATCH program be suspended.

Parents of students in the 13 schools were mailed a letter about CATCH and were required to sign and return a form to the school principal if they did not want their child to participate in the program. The school district claims that only 1-2% of parents opted out of the program, but some parents claim they never received the letter. Other parents think that rather than having to opt out if they do not want their child to be given contraceptives, parents should be required to opt in if they do want their child to participate in the program. The city doesn’t normally use default consent, even for field trips.

Despite recent notable declines, the United States still leads the developed world in numbers of births to teenagers, which concerns public health officials. “In New York City, over 7,000 young women become pregnant by age 17 – 90% of which are unplanned,” Alexandra Waldhorn, a health department spokeswoman, said. “We are committed to trying new approaches, like this pilot program in place since January 2011, to improve a situation that can have lifelong consequences.” NY Times, 9-25-12

Of the unplanned teen pregnancies in the city, about 64% are terminated, the city says. This statistic does not consider pregnancies terminated by Plan B. Plan B’s high dose of the hormone progestin works in two ways: it can prevent ovulation from occurring so there is no egg to fertilize or it can cause changes to the uterine wall that stop the implantation of a fertilized egg. The latter outcome is the reason Plan B is sometimes called “the abortion pill.” Which outcome occurs depends on whether or not ovulation or conception has already taken place.

To receive the “morning-after pill,” a student tells the school nurse she had unprotected sex, a pregnancy test is administered, and if the result is negative, the student receives Plan B without parental notification. Girls under 17 need a prescription that is provided by city Health Department doctors. A pregnancy test will only detect pregnancy beginning about two weeks after conception, so virtually all tests taken in the nurse’s office will be negative unless conception is from a previous incident of unprotected sex.

In last year’s five-school CATCH pilot program, 567 students received Plan B and 580 received birth control pills. While there are some 40 privately run health clinics at New York City public schools, these 13 schools were chosen for the CATCH pilot because they have no nearby clinic and do have high rates of teen pregnancy.

In a statement issued by the Independent Women’s Forum, Hadley Heath, senior policy analyst specializing in health care said, “Of course the point is to reduce the number of unexpected pregnancies, but we shouldn’t pretend that pregnancy is the only result of sex. Aren’t we de-valuing sexual intimacy by giving students the impression that their decisions come with an ‘undo’ button?”