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October 9, 2008

School to dispense birth control

Condoms and birth control pills can be distributed to students at Gloucester High School as long as their parents don't object, the School Committee has ruled, capping a policy debate over contraception that has divided the community since a steep rise in pregnancies was reported last year.

The unanimous decision, cast as a compromise by committee members, was greeted with enthusiasm by those who have supported expanded access to contraceptives, including some students and the former staff of the high school clinic, who resigned in protest of Addison Gilbert Hospital's handling of the issue at the end of the last school year.

"I am thrilled,' said Dr. Brian Orr, who was the medical director of the clinic before stepping down. "It is a win-win for everybody. Teens have access. Parents have opt-out. I think for the whole community, this is a great outcome for a horrible crisis."

Gloucester High School junior Pamela Tobey, who last week told the committee that a majority of students at the school supported gaining access to contraceptives, said she thought the School Committee had acted wisely.

"I am happy with their decision; it was a good choice," Tobey said.

But for many parents who a week earlier had told the committee they didn't feel the school should be giving out contraceptives, the inclusion of an opt-out clause did not make the new policy acceptable.

"My son told me he would rather not tell people what high school he went to," Glen Bresnahan of Essex Avenue said yesterday. "The School Committee listens to what everyone says and then just does what they were going to do all along. They should be ashamed."

In voting to provide a wide range of reproductive health services, the committee cited the testimony of three hand-picked public health experts who spoke at a hearing in July, all suggesting the public health benefits of contraceptives, including reducing teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, outweighed any risks.

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