NEW YORK (AP)—It's a campaign believed to be unprecedented in its size and aggressiveness: New York City is handing out the morning-after pill to girls as young as 14 at more than 50 public high schools, sometimes even before they have had sex.
The effort to combat teen pregnancy in the nation's largest city contrasts sharply with the views of politicians and school systems in more conservative parts of the country.
Valerie Huber, president of the National Abstinence Education Association in Washington, calls it "a terrible case once again of bigotry of low expectations"—presuming that teen girls will have sex anyway, and effectively endorsing that.
New York's program was phased in in the 1-million-student school system beginning about four years ago. Nurse practitioners or physicians dispense the pills, and parents can sign an opt-out form preventing their daughters from taking part.
Only about 1 to 2 percent of parents have opted out, according to the city Health Department.
The program is seen a way to reduce a startling number: More than 7,000 New York City girls ages 15 to 17 get pregnant each year. More than two-thirds of those pregnancies end in abortions.
"We are committed to trying new approaches ...to improve a situation that can have lifelong consequences," the Health Department said in a statement.
In the 2011-12 school year, 576 girls got the pills, said Deborah Kaplan, an assistant health commissioner.
Felicia Regina, Parent Association president at Port Richmond High on Staten Island, has two teens at the school, a junior and a senior, and said she has never heard any parents voice objections.
"I do think it's a good idea," she said. "The children nowadays are not going to abstain from sexual intercourse. How many unwed mothers do we need?"
Anne Leary, a conservative blogger in Chicago whose children are in their 20s, said the idea is ill-advised and undermines parents' authority. Her own children attended high school in a Chicago suburb and had to get a note from a parent or doctor just to get an aspirin.
"These kids are under 16, which is the age for statutory rape in most states. I just think it's subsidizing and encouraging behavior that's probably not healthy for kids that age," Leary said.
New York City's schools already offer regular birth control pills, condoms, and other contraception, just as many other schools around the country do. But emergency contraception is especially controversial.
Many scientists say Plan B works by blocking ovulation or fertilization. But Plan B's label says it may also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, and conservative activists who believe life begins at conception contend it amounts to an abortion pill.