, Gloucester, MA

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May 30, 2008

Top state health official backs high school birth control

A top state health official yesterday recommended an "evidence-based" response to the spike in pregnancies at Gloucester High School that would include confidential access to birth control at the high school clinic.

Dr. Lauren Smith, the state Department of Public Health's medical director, offered to help the city combat the rising number of teen pregnancies and said she had held preliminary discussions with representatives of Addison Gilbert Hospital, which runs the high school health clinic, about the best way to bring the fourfold spike in pregnancies at the school this year under control.

"We have urged them to use an evidence-based response to the problem, which would involve a school-based response," Smith said. "Our pledge is that we will work with them to respond in a way that is sound public health principles and practice. That would include contraceptive counseling and services."

School, city and hospital officials have been discussing a response to the high school's teen pregnancy rate after learning that 17 girls at the school had become pregnant this year, around four times the average annual number.

But work on a new policy was disrupted last week when Dr. Brian Orr, the medical director of the health clinic and a member of the hospital-led advisory board, resigned because of what he said was a reluctance on the part of the hospital system to provide birth control at the high school.

Representatives from Addison Gilbert Hospital and its parent company, Northeast Health System, have denied Orr's claim that the organization opposes providing birth control to high school students.

On Wednesday, Addison Gilbert Hospital Director Cindy Donaldson said the reason the decision regarding birth control had not already been made was a desire to give the School Committee a chance to weigh in on the issue.

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