In Jan. 2011, New York City launched a pilot program to dispense free prescription contraceptives, including birth control pills and the morning-after pill, Plan B, to students at more than a dozen public high schools in the city.
The program, known as CATCH, for Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Healthcare, is an expansion of an existing, privately administered program that has run health centers in about 40 city schools over the past several years, offering students primary health care services as well as contraception, including oral birth control pills and Plan B.
In early 2011, CATCH launched in five New York City schools; this year, the program is in 13 schools. All schools were chosen because they are in neighborhoods that lack nearby clinics or health services or because they have high teen pregnancy rates. While public high schools around the country have offered condoms for students for years, CATCH is thought to be the first to provide contraceptive pills. The program works with city health department doctors and trained school nurses to give students a fuller range of contraceptive services, including pregnancy tests.
So far, city officials said, parents have not resisted the program. Parents were notified of the program by letter, and were given the opportunity to opt out by signing a form. Children of parents who don’t opt out can then visit the school nurse and receive contraception, or get a pregnancy test and Plan B after having unprotected sex, without explicitly notifying their parents. About 1% to 2% of parents have opted out, according to the health department.
“We’ve had no negative reaction to the CATCH program,” Deborah Kaplan, assistant commissioner of the health department’s Bureau of Maternal, Infant and Reproductive Health, told NBC News. “We haven’t had one objection. We’ve just had the opt-outs.”