July 12, 2013 — Although the Obama administration just last month agreed to allow over-the-counter sales of the emergency contraceptive Plan B One-Step to minors, a program in New York City schools has put the idea into practice for several years, the New York Times reports.
Under New York state laws, school nurses are prohibited from giving students any medication without a physician order. However, city officials developed a program that would allow girls as young as 13 or 14 to obtain emergency contraceptives, such as Plan B-One Step, at no cost through schools.
The program includes a patchwork of school nurses' offices and independent clinics that are available to students in more than 50 high schools throughout the city. Girls who need EC can take it immediately under the supervision of doctors or nurse practitioners who are licensed to prescribe medication.
In 13 schools where a school nurse administers EC after a phone consultation with a doctor, the schools send home notices to inform parents of the program. Parents are not required to provide consent, but they are able to submit an opt-out form at the beginning of each school year. Only 3% of parents in the 13 schools return the opt-out form, according to the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Figures from the department show that in the 2011-2012 academic year, about 5,500 girls received EC through the program at least once.
Debate Over Program
According to the Times, school-based health centers that either prescribe or administer EC are in place in other cities, including Baltimore; Chicago; and Oakland, Calif. However, New York City has a history of controversy regarding access to contraception through schools, making the program's success particularly noteworthy.
Two decades ago, the city's school superintendent lost his job after backlash over a plan to offer condoms in schools, as well as other controversial decisions. Now, Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) has power over public schools, allowing his administration to make decisions without public input.
Critics of the program claim that giving teens access to EC encourages sexual activity. They also argue that parents should be involved in their children's decisions.
However, James Trussell, a professor of economics at Princeton University, and Elizabeth Raymond, senior medical associate with Gynuity Health Projects, said scientific evidence suggests that expanding access to EC does not increase sexual activity among teens (Hartocollis/Bond, New York Times, 7/11).