- The Washington Times - Monday, September 24, 2012

New York City school and health officials are stepping on parental rights by going beyond condom giveaways and giving girls as young as age 14 “morning-after pills” and other chemical contraceptives at school without telling their parents, leaders of traditional values groups said Monday.

Their reactions were sparked by news that nurses in 13 public high schools are dispensing Plan B emergency contraception and other products to sexually active students who ask for it.

“We’re incensed at the arrogance of this administration. The state is constantly telling parents, ‘We know better than you on how to raise your children,’” said the Rev. Jason McGuire, executive director of the New Yorker’s Family Research Foundation.

“Our kids are being targeted and they’re being sold sex. That’s what this is all about, and it needs to stop,” said Michelle Mulledy, New York state director for Concerned Women for America.

Parents can block such services by sending in “opt-out” forms, city health officials said.

But this move to provide emergency contraception in schools “might be a nationwide first,” the New York Post reported Monday, noting that the National Association of School Nurses “could cite no other school district supplying Plan B.”

The plan is “tragic and misguided,” New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn said in a blog post Monday.

This plan “usurps” parents’ roles as first educators for their children “and allows the public school system to substitute its beliefs and values for those of the parents,” they wrote.

The two Catholic prelates noted that state law bans tattoos and piercings for minors unless parents give their explicit, informed consent. But when “powerful drugs — with their potentially serious side effects — are involved,” they said, “we let these young teens do what they want, without a word to their parents.”

Traditional-values groups noted that schools have long passed out condoms to willing students and that those prophylactics carry no medical side effects, but morning-after and birth-control pills have long been considered medical care.

This expansion of contraceptives in school “is something that should be broadly discussed in public, not done in backroom deals,” Mr. McGuire said.

New York state law sets age 17 as the age of consent, and “parents have a right to know when their [underage] daughters are engaged in sexual activity,” he said.

Plan B is a birth-control product designed to prevent pregnancy if taken 72 hours after unprotected sex. While hailed as an essential tool to prevent unwanted pregnancy, it is controversial because it could disrupt implantation of a fertilized egg; many pro-life supporters see it as an unacceptable abortion drug.

Women 17 and older can buy Plan B in pharmacies and clinics, but younger girls need a prescription. In December, the Obama administration enraged feminist and pro-choice groups when it rejected a manufacturer’s request to sell its Plan B One-Step over-the-counter drug to women of all ages; more research is needed, the Department of Health and Human Services said.

Meanwhile, New York is one of 26 states that allow “all minors (12 and older) to consent to contraceptive services,” according to the Guttmacher Institute. Also, since 1991, New York City public high schools have dispensed free condoms to students, unless their parents sent in an “opt-out” form.

The plan to provide emergency contraception to students was developed as a pilot program in five public schools in 2011. Some 1,150 girls received either Plan B or Reclipsen, another emergency contraceptive, according to the New York Post.

That program, which is part of the Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Health (CATCH) program, expanded to 13 schools this fall. In addition to giving pregnancy tests and emergency contraception, school nurses also will help students get Depo-Provera birth-control injections and regular birth-control pills.

Parents were informed about CATCH and given an opt-out form to sign if they didn’t want their daughters receiving contraception or Plan B, said Alexandra Waldhorn, a spokeswoman for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

More than 7,000 teens become pregnant by age 17 each year, and about 64 percent of these “are terminated” by abortion, she 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,” Ms. Waldhorn said, adding that on average, 1 percent to 2 percent of parents opt out of the CATCH program.

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