A group of New York City schools have come under fire from local Catholics for giving students morning-after pills and contraceptives without their parents' knowledge.
In New York, “minors can get access to abortions without parental notification, as well as contraception,” Dennis Poust, Director of Communications for the New York State Catholic Conference, told EWTN News.
The program, known as Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Health, began in Jan. 2011 at five high schools. It was later expanded to 14 schools, representing over 20,000 students.
“Ironically, the legislature just passed, and governor Cuomo signed, two new laws restricting minors’ access to tanning beds and body piercings,” Cuomo added.
“While these are no doubt good public policies, it just further highlights the absurd double standard when it comes to abortion and contraception in this state.”
The CATCH initiative is currently at 13 New York City schools, as one school, Seward Park Campus in Manhattan, did not have the resources to handle the program and was dropped.
During the last school year, 567 students received emergency contraceptives and 580 received birth-control pills. Those figures are in addition to the students referred out of school for health services.
The selection of schools for the program was based on historically high pregnancy risk and a shortage of health services nearby the schools.
Last year in New York City, 7,000 girls under 17 became pregnant, 64 percent of whom aborted their child. Of the 2,200 who continued their pregnancy, some 70 percent dropped out of school.
Under CATCH, if a student has “unprotected” sex she is able to approach a school nurse and get a pregnancy test. A health department doctor writes her a prescription for Plan B and her prescription is filled at the school.
Parents at the schools were sent letters informing them about the program and are able to opt-out of the program in whole or in part.
They can choose to limit their child's access to emergency contraception, birth control pills, pregnancy testing, and condoms. To do this they must sign and return the opt-out form given them.
However, some parents have complained that they never received an opt-out letter from their schools.
The Department of Health reported that only 1 to 2 percent of parents chose opt-out of the program.
City health officials have said that it is too early to determine whether the program is effective in cutting the rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
A 2010 study in the Journal of Health Economics found that programs like CATCH were associated with higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases and may be associated with higher pregnancy rates.
Local Catholic leaders have been quick to react to the initiative.
Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn blogged about the program Sept. 24 saying that it “allows the public school system to substitute its beliefs and values for those of the parents.”
“It also places minors at risk, because no school system can be expected to know all the pertinent health information about their son or daughter, and be able to properly judge what is in their best interests.”