STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Port Richmond High School is one of 13 public high schools across the city making emergency contraception — better known as the morning-after pill — available to girls without parental consent.
“In New York City, over 7,000 young women become pregnant by age 17 — 90% of which pregnancies are unplanned,” the Health Department said in a statement. “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.”
Parents can opt their daughters out of the program, meaning they wouldn’t be able to obtain the pills. But if they don’t opt out, they won’t be notified if their daughters are given Plan B, the brand name of the morning-after pill.
Plan B has been available before now in some schools that have privately operated school-based health centers, according to the Health Department, which said the CATCH program at the 13 schools is part of a teen pregnancy-prevention strategy.
Of those 7,000 females who become pregnant by 17 in New York City, 64 percent terminate their pregnancies, and more than 2,200 become mothers by age 17.
Under state law, girls — or boys — can obtain contraception at community clinics and school-based health centers without telling their parents. And while parents can exclude their children from CATCH participation, only 1 to 2 percent of parents do so at the average site, the Health Department said.
Port Richmond Principal Timothy Gannon didn’t return a call requesting comment Monday.
Marie Elliott-Saile, who works for the Staten Island-based group Priests for Life and whose 15-year-old daughter attends Port Richmond, said she never received a letter telling her about the program.
“I did not get a letter and I’m very, very, very disappointed,” she said. “I think it’s morally wrong.”
Mrs. Elliott-Saile is an elder at the Staten Island Christian Union Church, and said her husband is a pastor. Making birth control available in school goes counter to the way they’ve been educating their daughter, she said.
“It’s like telling your kids it’s OK to go out there and have sex, and we have a cure for it,” she said. “What about all the STDs that are out there?”
She noted that permission is required for everything else at school, but not for this.
“It’s terrible. To give my daughter a Tylenol, the school nurse is going to call me and ask me,” she said. “But then they’re going to give my daughter that pill?”
Janet Morana, executive director of the Priests for Life, objected strongly to the program. “They’re taking away our parental rights,” she said.
Ms. Morana said the program is just an extension of the law that allows girls to get an abortion without parental consent. However, abortion is not part of the CATCH program.
Ms. Morana also contended that contraceptive pills like Plan B — which prevents pregnancy by using hormones the way normal birth control pills do, but in a higher dose — can increase the risk of cancer, and if a girl is adversely affected, her parents and their insurance would be left to deal with her care.
“I think it’s just horrific that this is all allowed to be done,” she said. “It shouldn’t have to be opt-out. You should have to opt in. The parent should have to consent to this because it’s affecting your child, your minor child.”
According to the National Institutes of Health, a recent study showed women using certain oral contraceptives had a slight increase in breast cancer risk. Other studies have consistently found that oral contraceptive use is associated with a reduced risk of ovarian cancer, according to the NIH.
Long-term use of oral contraceptives is also associated with an increased risk of cervical cancer, and a World Health Organization report found increased cervical cancer risk in women who used oral contraceptives and were also infected with the human papillomavirus, a sexually transmitted disease known to sometimes cause cervical cancer.