Movement opponents maintain that providing contraceptives to teens might cause more pregnancies than it prevents.

Nineteen-year-old Patricia Suggs is one of an estimated five million unmarried teenagers in this country who engage in sex. But unlike most of these teenagers, she can obtain contraceptives free of charge at the high school she attends.

That high school is DuSable High School, located in a black community on Chicago’s South Side, not far from the largest public housing project in the world. The project is home to about 28,000 people. About 90 percent of the residents are women and their children, many of whom were not wanted. Patricia said that three of every five of her female school friends have had at least one child.

The problem of unwanted pregnancies is viewed as a major link in the chain of poverty among black urban poor. Consequently, a major goal of the school-based clinic that opened last year at DuSable is to address this problem by informing students of their options, one of which is birth control. The clinics also provide students a variety of medical and psychological care.

Since the first school-based clinic opened in St. Paul, Minnesota, 12 years ago, the idea has taken root. Today, there are 43 such clinics in operation across the country with an additional 70 being set up. They are financed by both public and private money. DuSable, however, is only one of ten high schools where students can obtain contraceptives on campus.

Many prolife and profamily organizations find this trend disturbing. A spokesman for the National Right to Life Committee said supporters of the school clinic movement include proabortion organizations like Planned Parenthood. The Support Center for School-Based Clinics, established last year, is associated with the Washington, D.C.-based Population Institute, which favors legalized abortion. Groups opposing abortion contend that an eventual goal of the clinic movement is to expand services to include abortion services.

The Chicago-based Pro-Life/Pro-Family Coalition, which consists of 12 black, South Side ministers and their congregations, has retained an attorney to file suit against the Chicago Board of Education. “The business of schools is to teach students the basics in academics,” said coalition president Hiram Crawford, pastor of the independent Israel Methodist Community Church. “I strongly resent that they would even consider passing out contraceptives in public schools.” He maintains that abstinence is not presented as an option and that this violates Illinois law.

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Administrators of the DuSable clinic say they uphold abstinence as “the only method that is 100 percent effective.” But detractors say it is impossible to impress this on students while at the same time making the less-effective options readily available.

Patricia Suggs said that when she came to the clinic, “I was never told, ‘Don’t do it. Don’t have sex.’ … They tell you the pros and cons of it more than distracting you.” She adds, “You can’t ban somebody from doing it. You can’t really stop nature.”

Nancy Czerwiec, a former school teacher and a member of several prolife and profamily groups, says educators treat sex differently from other moral issues. “They preach against smoking, drinking, drugs, and stealing.… [Yet] they refuse to say no to sex. If a student gets drunk, we don’t give him a pill for his hangover and say, ‘Now you don’t have to worry about your problem.’ ”

Louise McCurry, full-time nurse practioner at DuSable, said teen sexual activity is a fact of life. She attributes this to commercials, movies, and the media, all of which contribute to a society in which it is “cool to have sex before 12,” and “being sexually attractive and fitting into your Calvin Kleins is the norm.” Said McCurry, “Birth control is an insurance policy, pure and simple. It’s an opportunity for these children to … make a life for themselves.”

Clinical assistant Brenda Holmes said she opposes sex outside marriage on moral grounds. But she added, “That’s not the real world.” Addressing the opposition from antiabortion groups, Holmes said the clinic will never offer abortion services. “That’s where I really put my foot down. If you have already conceived something, it’s too late. It’s a human life.” Holmes said she suspects the abortion rate for pregnant teens is higher in Chicago’s white suburbs than it is in the community around DuSable.

Crawford maintains the availability of contraceptives encourages fornication. Indeed, Patricia Suggs said that she would not consider having sex without birth control. “I’m not one who would take that risk,” she said. “I want to go to college.” Nurse practitioner McCurry said, however, that most teens are sexually active for about a year before they seek birth control. She concludes that contraceptives do not encourage promiscuity.

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Do Clinics Accomplish Their Purpose?

A major issue in the debate over school-based clinics is whether they succeed in eliminating unwanted pregnancies. DuSable administrators say that 300 of its 1,000 female students got pregnant in the year before the clinic began operating. In the first half of the current school year, according to Holmes, only 35 pregnancies have been recorded. Clinic supporters also claim that the St. Paul school system has reduced the number of teen pregnancies by 66 percent.

However, critics question these numbers. Before the DuSable clinic was launched, no records of pregnancies were kept. Laura Devon, information officer for the Ounce of Prevention, which funds the clinic, said the 300 number is an estimate drawn from census figures and from interviews of school personnel.

Paulette Anderson, an assistant pastor at Crawford’s church and a candidate for state representative, attended a national conference on school-based clinics held last fall in Chicago. She said it was revealed that pregnancy had increased at some schools where contraceptives are dispensed. She said clinic supporters openly wondered why.

There is also substantial disagreement over how much community support the DuSable clinic has. Defenders say most of the opposition comes from outsiders who cannot appreciate the problems of urban living.

“Casual sex was a prerequisite for project life,” wrote free-lance journalist Ron Tate in the Chicago Tribune. He is one of few DuSable graduates to have launched a promising career. “For many boys,” he continues, “to be sexually active was to be considered a man. For some girls, engaging in sex meant having a baby, an opportunity to alleviate loneliness, while at the same time possessing something they could call their own.” Urban reality, McCurry noted, also includes a high incidence of rape and incest.

Clinic detractors say there is community opposition to the dispensing of contraceptives. They say the opposition is hesitant to voice a protest because the clinic has been widely touted as an object of community pride. About 70 percent of the parents of DuSable students signed permission slips for their children to receive health care at the clinic. However, the parents’ choice was to sign or not to sign a blanket form; they could not deny permission for their children to receive contraceptives without denying them access to all the other health services offered by the clinic.

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Arguably, the major point of disagreement over school-based clinics is the morality of premarital sex. Where clinic literature advocates abstinence, it does so for practical, not moral, reasons.

Anderson said that at the conference she attended, the virtue of chastity was ridiculed as being outdated. She said, “God knew what he was doing when he set down moral laws forbidding premarital sex.” She said that even if pregnancy were not an issue, sex outside of committed marriage leads to “emotional instability and low self-esteem.”

Anderson maintains the school-based clinic movement, sincere as its supporters may be, ends up doing more harm to teens than good. She quotes a biblical proverb: “The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”


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