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October 22, 2008

Schools reject morning after pill

A proposal to provide the "morning after pill" at the Gloucester High School Health Center has been rejected by the School Committee on the grounds it could encourage reckless behavior among students, erode the trust of parents and ignite ideological debate with those who consider it abortion.

Two weeks ago, the committee approved providing traditional contraceptives at the high school, but did not address emergency contraceptives, which are available to adults without a prescription and considered effective and appropriate for teenagers by public health experts.

Looking to end to a policy debate over teen pregnancy that has dominated the committee's attention since June, Superintendent Christopher Farmer on Monday night proposed making emergency contraceptives available, but adding a new check box on the health center's enrollment form that would allow parents to prevent their children from receiving them.

The enrollment form, crafted by Farmer with help from representatives of Addison Gilbert Hospital and Northeast Health System, already included a check box for parents that would prevent their children from being prescribed conventional birth control.

Dr. Peter Short, the new medical director at the high school health center and a vice president at Northeast Health System, said the morning after pill, which goes by the brand name Plan B, was safe, effective and prevented pregnancies before fertilization.

But on a 5-1 vote, the committee voted to keep Plan B out of the clinic and remove mention of it from the enrollment form.

Committee member Melissa Teixeira said including the morning after pill in the clinic's reproductive services "crossed the line" into politically and culturally controversial territory.

"This is more serious than birth control," Teixeira told committee members. "If there is a chance for fertilization, it brings it to another level."

Yesterday, Teixeira said she personally supports the use of emergency contraceptives, but was concerned that distributing them in the clinic could plunge the school system back into controversy after months of debate about last year's rise in student pregnancies.

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