Middle school has 1 taker months after contraceptives furor

By: AP
By: AP

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) -- For all the firestorm surrounding the decision to make prescription contraceptives available at King Middle School, only one girl has used the service in the six months since the program began, officials say.

Last fall, administrators said they anticipated that only a handful of older middle schoolers would use the service, even though it was open to all students enrolled in the clinic, including those as young as 11.

As of Thursday, the only student to obtain a prescription for contraceptives was a 14-year-old girl, the city reported in response to a Freedom of Access request from The Associated Press.

"If it helps one student who otherwise might be in a position of being at risk, then it's worth it," said Lisa Belanger, who oversees Portland's student health centers.

The School Committee's 7-2 vote made King, which enrolls about 500 students, the state's only middle school to provide a full range of prescription contraceptives.

One concern was that students who have their parents' permission to use King Middle School's city-run health clinic could receive contraceptives without their parents' knowledge. Under Maine law, mental health, substance abuse and reproductive health issues are confidential.

Local parents have remained supportive of the program, however, and the number of kids with permission to use the clinic is largely unchanged, Principal Michael McCarthy said.

"I think most young teenagers who have a close relationship with their parents are talking to their parents about these things," said Dr. Ellen Popenoe, a psychologist who has a daughter at King. The clinic provides a safety net for those who can't, she said.

Nationally, about a quarter of school clinics serving adolescents provide some type of contraceptive, usually condoms, and most of those are high schools, according to the National Assembly on School Based Health Care.

Only a handful of middle schools provide access to a full range of prescription contraceptives, said Divya Mohan, the organization's spokeswoman. But school health clinics tend to tailor their services in response to a community need, she noted.

In Portland, five 14- and 15-year-old girls who used the clinic at King reported being sexually active and one student became pregnant in the year before the School Committee decided to make birth control available.

Michael Heath of the Christian Civic League of Maine said he remains troubled that young girls could be given contraceptives even though state law defines sex with a nonspousal minor under 14 as gross sexual assault.

"There's no circumstance where a school should be providing contraception to kids," Heath said. "It shouldn't happen under any circumstances."

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