New York City Pilot Program Offers Contraceptives to High School Students

September 24, 2012 — Contraception, including emergency contraception, is available to thousands of high school students in New York City through a pilot program that launched last year, and officials say few parents have objected, the New York Times reports.

Only 1% to 2% of parents returned a form requesting to opt out of the program, which offers EC, oral contraceptives, pregnancy testing and condoms (Hartocollis, New York Times, 9/23). Injectable hormonal birth control also is available as of this fall, officials said. Students can obtain services through the program confidentially, without parental permission, if their parents do not opt out (Edelman/Fagen, New York Post, 9/23).

Through the program -- Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Healthcare, or CATCH -- doctors from the health department work with school nurses to provide the drugs. Under federal rules, EC, which is taken as soon as possible after sex to reduce the risk of pregnancy, is available without a prescription to individuals ages 17 and older (New York Times, 9/23).

About 28% percent of city students entering high school already have had sex, and more than 50% will be sexually active before graduating, according to city data (New York Post, 9/23).

During the 2011-2012 school year, 580 students received the birth control pill Reclipsen and 567 students obtained EC through CATCH. Health officials noted that the figures do not include students who were referred elsewhere for services.

Private Program Also in Place

It is too early in the CATCH program to determine if it has been effective in reducing pregnancy or sexually transmitted infection rates, officials said. CATCH is modeled on a similar private program that has operated in school-based health centers in the city for years.

The private program provides access to contraceptives to about 25% of high school students in the city, while the city-run program extends the services to another 5% of students. The additional schools were chosen based on the lack of health services in those areas and students at higher risk of pregnancy, the health department said.

Students whose parents opted out of CATCH can still obtain EC and other contraceptives without parental consent through the privately run centers.

New York is among 21 states and Washington, D.C., that allow all minors to access contraception without parental involvement, but a court decision in the early 1990s required parents to be notified and given the opportunity to opt out of the program when contraception is provided at school, according to the Guttmacher Institute (New York Times, 9/23).