If your child attends a school in the Ottawa-Carleton region, he or she now has easy access to a birth control clinic.  It may well be located right in your child’s school.

The Ottawa Board of Education opened a clinic in Ridgemount in November 1988, and is planning to place clinics in tow other schools, one of which will be francophones.

The Carleton Board of Education will open Birth Control clinics in South Carleton on February 6, and Confederation on Marcy 1.

Clinics will also accept students from non-clinic schools.  An eleven-year-old from an elementary school would be welcome, as would a student from a Roman Catholic or private school.  No parental notification is necessary and all services will be kept strictly confidential.

The Ministry of Health will fund these five clinics at a star-up cost of $160,000.  The clinics will operate after school hours and during the summer.

Robert Dolan, of the Ottawa-Carleton Regional Health Unit, said a doctor would conduct pap smears, treat sexually transmitted diseases and supply condoms at “low or no cost,” while a public health nurse will provide counseling…”We’re taking most of the services we provide in our birth control clinics and providing them in a school environment,” he told the Toronto Star, May 25, 1988.

Eleanor Campbell, a public health nurse and sexuality counselor, said contraceptives will be sold on the school premises.  Other services will include pregnancy tests and abortion referrals.

For teenage girls she recommends the pill, but with a condom and foam to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, particularly Chlamydia.  She does not recommend the IUD or diaphragm for teens.

Campbell had no pregnancy statistics on individual school populations, but she said that for 12-19 year olds in the Ottawa-Carleton regions the pregnancy rate had stabilized about 800 pregnancies per year for the last four years.  (Given the age range, some of these would be married women.)

While the school principals and boards tend to see themselves as simply leasing premises, Campbell envisions a large educational component and a close working relationship with the host school.  “We want to go into the classrooms and we’ll be showing films at lunch times.  We will have a peer-helper group of students, supplemented by staff at the school to show the films and answer simple questions.  They will not be counselors but will direct other students to us.”

Requested by whom?

There seems to be some disagreement about who actually requested the clinics.  Carleton board minutes record that in February 1988 the Ottawa-Carleton Regional Health Unit approached the Carleton Board of Education (CBE) about the possibility of placing two birth-control clinics in the high schools.

Campbell, speaking for the Health Unit, says the request came from the school boards.  First Ottawa and then Carleton.  The CBE minutes refer to the clinics as “pilot projects” that will be reviewed after one year.  Campbell was adamant: “They were never intended as a pilot project.”

By August 1988, the CBE minutes refer no longer to “birth control clinics” but to “School Based Health Centres for Sexuality Information.”

The Principal’s Association and the Carleton Council of Parent School Associations were informed, as were the Parent Advisory Councils of the two schools chosen, but the general parent population was not.  Only 22 Confederation parents and about 20 South Carleton parents were notified.

The Chairperson for South Carleton Parent Advisory Council, Pat Park, said: “Elementary feeder school parents need not be notified as the clinics do not affect them.”

On November 28, 1988, the motion to implement the two clinics was passed 17-1, just one week before the new CBE trustees were sworn in.

On December 19, 1988, one of the newly elected trustees, Marcia Rosenburg, gave a notice of motion “That establishment of School Based Health Centres for Sexuality programs at South Carleton and Confederation High Schools be postponed pending a complete re-examination by the Educational Services Committee with a further report to Board on February 19, 1988.

On January 9, 1988, Rosenburg’s motion was defeated 10-6 with two absentees.  The next day it was discovered that Educational Staff at CBE had received research information from the Ottawa Carleton Regional Health Unit, but had not passed any of it on to the 1988 trustees to review.

On February 3, Trustee Marilyn Cameron, the lone dissenter on the November 28 vote, wrote in the Ottawa Citizen that “a one-month deferral of implementation was so that trustees, especially those new to the board, could consider research that had not been considered previously.”

Given that the previous board had been provided with no research whatsoever, it made sense for the Educational Services Committee to examine any research we could acquire.  There is research out there, but out board by a democratic vote has decided that it “did not wish to receive it or discuss it.”

No Notification

The Carleton and Ottawa Boards have yet to formally notify the general parent population of the clinics.  No arrangements have been made to allow parents to opt their children out of the programs, even though most of the students are under age of majority.

Pat Park admits most parents have not been properly informed, but she also feels that clinics will do only good.  “Any family that would want to request that their child not be counseled would be a strange family indeed.  I would trust my children to such a clinic.  It’s run by professionals.

Trish Polhill, founder of the Birth Control Victims Association of Canada, says, “Parents and teens think they are home free with birth control products. You need informed choice, and even professional clinic staff do not give you all the information, especially the bad news.  Ottawa parents need to sit down with their teens and tell them that birth control products don’t always work.”

Planned Parenthood’s Publication

Family Planning Perspectives, Summer 1973, noted that “The failure rate of contraceptives is high among teenagers, four to five times higher than among adults.”

Polhill says there ca be tragic side-effects.  “If they don’t sit down now with their kids and level with them, these same parents may have to console their grown daughters because of cervical cancer or breast cancer or infertility.”

“Suicidal depression may appear as a result of an abortion event when the pregnancy is not desired,” writes Dr. Harry Rosen.  Suicidal depression is most pronounced around what would have been the birth date of the fetus.  How can family members offer comfort and support to such a teen if the school clinic does not inform them of the abortion?

Clinics Force Abortion Rate Up

The Ottawa and Carleton School boards want to see pregnancy, birth and abortion rates go down with confidential counseling.  Unfortunately, studies in the U.S. and Britain, where these clinics have been in existence longer, show the rates actually go up.

Parental notification decreases the teen pregnancy rate.  In 1981, the State of Minnesota’s parental notification law came into force.  The law required that girls under 18 years of age had to notify both parents or seek court permission before undergoing an abortion.  A further requirement stipulated that there must be a 48-hour waiting period between notification and the actual abortion.

Between 1981 and 1986 there was a dramatic decrease in the number of teenage pregnancies and abortions.  Between 1981 and 1983 the number of abortions done on Minnesota girls 15-17 years old dropped 40 per cent; births decreased 23.4 per cent; births decreased 23.4 per cent and pregnancies decreased 32 per cent.

Dr. Jacqueline Kasun, an expert in teen pregnancy research, commented on the Baltimore School Birth Control Study (1986) that “The school drop-out rate among the girls in the experimental (clinic) school was three times the drop our rate of girls in the control (non-clinic) schools.  As many as one half such drop-outs may be due to pregnancy.  This casts serious doubt on the conclusions that the clinic program reduced sex activity and pregnancy.”

Dr. Judith Bury of the Brooke Advisory Centres, Britain (centers that distribute contraceptives to teens), said, “There is overwhelming evidence that contrary to what you might expect, the provision of contraceptives leads to an increase in the abortion rate.

Stan E. Weed and Joseph A. Olsen have conducted massive studies analyzing the extension of contraceptive services to American teens: “In 1972, the pregnancy rate for 15 to 19 years olds was about 95 per thousand.  In 1981 the rate was 113 per thousand in that same category.  In that time period, when the size of the teen population was little changed, teen abortions went from 190.000 to 430,000.  One must reconcile the rise in teen pregnancies with major program efforts that saw a fivefold increase in teenage clients and a twenty fold constant dollar increase in funding.”

Weed and Olsen did follow-up studies.  To the questions “Have the clinics just not reached enough teenagers with these services to make a difference yet?” and “Would the teenage pregnancy rate have been still worse without the clinics?”  Weed answers, “No.”

In the Wall Street Journal, October 14, 1986, Weed says, “Many factors in society are likely to have more influence on pregnancy rates than the lack of availability of contraceptive services.  Enhanced educational and occupational aspirations (along with genuine opportunities for success) may well be more important than having access to birth control.”

According then to Weed, the Ottawa and Carleton Board would have more success reducing teen pregnancy rates by fulfilling their traditional mandate: enhancing educational and occupational opportunities for their students.

Teach (them) to say “No!”

Programs that encourage postponing sexual involvement are proving highly successful in urban Montreal high schools.  Such programs also reduce the rates of sexual transmitted diseases (STDs).

Theoretical Biologist Dr. Richard Gordon stated on the CBC science show “Quirks and Quarks” that “If we take a couple, one of whom is infected with AIDS, and they are using the best condom and spermicide, the uninfected person has a 23 per cent chance of being infected after five years.  With a cheap condom and no spermicide the risk over five years would rise to 83 per cent.

This almost one-in-four risk in five years increases over time, so that a 14-year-old who is handed a latex condom and spermicide by the school clinic would have a 50 per cent chance of getting AIDS by the time he is 25.

School birth control clinics do a disservice to both the sexually active student and to the student who wants to postpone sexual involvement.

The sexually active student is not given the risk factors and negative aspects of contraceptives that would truly make his or her decision “informed.”  Clinics assume there is no turning back for the sexually active student.  A fatalistic “they’re going to do it anyway” mentality pervades.  Yet the Montreal program has found that with the proper support teens can reverse their behaviour.  Second virginity, as they call it, is possible.

School clinics undermine the resolve of the student who wants to postpone sexual involvement.  As one South Carleton 15-year-old said, “This puts more pressure on the girls to do what the boys want.”  She said that both male and female students are writing the Carleton Board asking it to remove the clinic.

School clinics send out the blatant message that adults expect teens to be sexually active.  We’ll help you say “yes,” not “no.”

The author is a former high school teacher, a curriculum consultant and founder of Parents for Responsible Education.