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Forest Grove school board discusses contraceptives ahead of vote

Birth control pills. (Photo: outcast104 / Flickr / CC BY 2.0)

The Forest Grove school board is considering to permit its school-based health center to provide contraceptives to students. A decision is expected soon.

The school board has discussed, what some would call controversial, the idea for years, but has yet to make a definitive ruling.

Nonprofit Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center operates the school-based health center (SBHC) for the district.

The health center provides health care for people from birth to 20 years old at little to no cost.

Virginia Garcia Memorial operates health centers in several rural towns and six districts in Washington and Yamhill counties, including Beaverton, Tigard-Tualatin, Hillsboro, Forest Grove, Century and Willamina school districts.

Five out of the six schools provide contraception services. Forest Grove is the last school district remaining.

Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center school-based health center Program Director Lacey Beaty points to the district's teen pregnancy rates as proof contraception services are needed.

According to the nonprofit, Forest Grove has the highest rate of teen pregnancies in the entire state. For girls and women aged 15 to 19, 39 of every 1,000 in Forest Grove become pregnant, compared to the state's 21 of every 1,000 in the same age range.

"There is a lot of children getting pregnant because they have lack of options and places to go," Beaty told KATU. "We are adolescent specialists. We know how to communicate with students and we want parents involved and we want teens to want their parents to be involved. We help bridge the gap between students' rights and parental consent. We want to bring those two together at the school-based health center."

A 2017 study conducted by the Oregon Health Authority found more than half of students polled said they first had sex at 15 and 16 years old.

Contraceptives are offered at the Beaverton Public Schools health center across from Beaverton High School. It's been offered for more than two years there.

Beaty says 23 percent of students who use health center services ask for contraceptives. She also says the nonprofit has found a decrease in sexually transmitted infections (STI).

"The sky did not fall here," Beaty said. "We had no adverse reactions from parents. We were able to do what every other pediatrician office can do, according to the state law."

Under Oregon law, children as young as 15 can seek medical care without parental permission and students of any age are able to seek contraceptive services without parental approval.

But not everyone is on board.

Suzanne Gallagher, executive director of Parents' Rights in Education, says it breaches parents' rights.

"For decades, there has been a tug-of-war between the public school bureaucracy and parents over what students are taught. Now, there is an effort to step beyond that realm into health, a very dangerous leap," Gallagher said. "Just because the family is not of means, does not suggest the parents don't want to be involved in health-related decisions."

Several parents who asked to remain anonymous agreed, even taking it one step further, and arguing schools should be encouraging students to practice abstinence.

Since Jan. 1, Hillsboro and Tigard-Tualatin school boards voted to allow school-based health centers to provide contraceptives to students.

Gallagher read a prepared statement urging Tigard-Tualatin board members to reconsider. Read her whole statement below.


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