By Richard Gaines
State representative candidate Astrid af Klinteberg yesterday condemned Northeast Health System for resisting discussion of offering birth control at Gloucester High School, where pregnancies have quadrupled into what has been described as an epidemic.
A bar advocate or public defender with a practice in juvenile issues, af Klinteberg said she was "dismayed" to learn that Dr. Brian Orr and nurse practitioner Kim Daley had resigned from the Gloucester High School Health Center to protest what Orr describes as Northeast's resistance to allowing birth control to be given to students.
Af Klinteberg called the resignations a "tragedy," and urged Cindy Donaldson, the executive director of Addison Gilbert Hospital, to "re-engage in the effort to solve the pregnancy crisis at the high school."
She also accused Northeast of "imposing its values on the community."
"By not allowing the discussion of whether to confidentially dispense contraceptives (something the students would have access to with their own doctors), the leadership of Addison Gilbert and Northeast Health System is cutting off a vital option in dealing with the important issue of teen pregnancy," af Klinteberg wrote in a statement e-mailed to the Times last evening.
Northeast declined comment on af Klinteberg's critique, but Northeast spokeswoman Heather Jones released a statement to the Times challenging Orr's characterization of the nonprofit regional health and hospital corporation as resisting the option of birth control in a school health clinic that is funded by the state and administered by Northeast.
Jones's statement — also e-mailed to the Times — said the Student Health Center Advisory Board, from which Orr and Daley resigned, decided last Wednesday to present to the School Committee a "formal plan" for its approval. The plan call for the dispensing of "confidential oral contraceptive" through the high school clinic.
"We believe that it is critical to get the School Committee's approval of this plan before making any decisions to move forward with offering confidential contraceptives without parental consent," the Northeast statement said.
Orr last night scoffed at the suggestion that Northeast was open to the contraceptive option.
He quoted Bill Donaldson, Northeast's counsel and Cindy Donaldson's husband, as saying, "We are against birth control."
According to Orr, Bill Donaldson went on to say, "You can go to the School Committee and if the School Committee wants (birth control), we will reconsider and maybe, maybe, we will make a decision to include it."
The lack of availability of birth control to high school students became a searing issue in the aftermath of the resignations of Orr and Daley and the acknowledgement that 17 high school students were pregnant this year. In recent years, the average annual number of pregnancies was three or four, according to school officials.
In a statement, Schools Superintendent Christopher Farmer said it was his understanding that Northeast would not allow the question of contraception to be "on the agenda for discussion."
He added that such a position "flies in the face of the views and experience of the medical profession."
Af Klinteberg and attorney Ann-Margaret Ferrante are competing with incumbent Anthony Verga for the Democratic nomination for state representative from the 5th Essex District. There is currently no Republican candidate for the seat.
Richard Gaines can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org