More than 7,000 girls in New York City become pregnant by the age of 17 each year. Nearly two-thirds have abortions. Now, some New York public high schools are expanding a program to provide birth control to students as young as 14 who request it. That expansion has become controversial with some parents.
Every year in New York, more than 2,500 girls under 18 give birth, and many drop out of school. So officials began a program last year making hormonal birth control available at 13 high schools with high pregnancy rates.
Condoms have long been provided, but now girls may request Depo-Provera birth control shots, or Plan-B, an emergency contraceptive taken after unprotected sex. Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the program is necessary.
"Well, the good news is, we brought teenage pregnancy down by I think something like 25 percent over the last ten years. The bad news is there's still an awful lot of girls who get pregnant at a very early age," Bloomberg stated.
Michele Handelman is a nurse-midwife and the mother of two public high school students. She says New York State law gives teenagers the right to birth control and abortion without parental notification. "They have the right to get free and confidential care, to prevent infections, get tested for HIV, and to protect themselves from pregnancy," she explained.
Parents can opt a child out of the program. But Mona Davids, head of the New York City Parents Union, said most parents were not informed. "It is not okay for Mayor Bloomberg and the Department of Education to circumvent our rights," she said. "And to allow our children to take a chemical-hormonal drug cocktail without our informed consent.”
She says schools cannot give other drugs, even aspirin, without parental consent and that long-term effects of hormonal birth control are unknown.
But Handelman says Depo-Provera and Plan B are safe.
"They don't have the estrogen in them that has been associated with blood clots, so in terms of any kind of dangerous side effects, there really are none. By far, the risk of pregnancy is more of a health hazard," Handelman asserrted.
Mona Davids, however, says there's a better way to prevent teen pregnancy.
"If Mayor Bloomberg truly cares about our children and stopping teenage pregnancy, he would invest in our schools," Davids added. "He would put the money back into those school budgets, so that they could have after-school programs, extra-curricular activities."
Davids says her group plans to sue to require parental consent.