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October 3, 2008

Health clinic may expand beyond birth control

New School Committee rules laying out the reproductive health services available at the Gloucester High School Health Center will address issues beyond the frequently debated question of whether students should have access to contraceptives.

While proposals from medical and public health experts to provide birth control confidentially at the health center has dominated discussions surrounding the School Committee's response to an increase in teen pregnancy, all potential reproductive health services, even those available now, such as pregnancy tests, are up for discussion.

"We will look at everything and weigh the public input," said Mayor Carolyn Kirk, also a member of the School Committee yesterday. "You either offer reproductive health services or you don't. I think the committee needs to come to a conclusion on that main question."

Kirk, who has issued personal support for contraceptive access with parental consent, said it was premature, even after a night of public comment, to say what options were on or off the table.

Residents speaking on the subject of teen pregnancy at the School Committee's special public meeting Wednesday night delivered — on balance — more support for some distribution of contraceptives at the school than none. But the possibility of providing birth control pills and condoms without any parental consent generated more displeasure than support among those voicing their opinions.

The reality of a vocal segment of the population wary of the combination of public education and contraceptives, coming up against a consensus among health experts on the benefits of birth control appears to set up an attempt at compromise from the School Committee.

The school department's draft policy released last week included three options for reproductive health services at the clinic ranging from "comprehensive," including confidential access to birth control, to "limited," excluding any access to contraceptives.

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