The city of Baltimore has been very progressive in its stance on adolescent reproductive health and teen pregnancy. Although schools have been distributing different forms of birth control for many years, controversy and debates have arisen over a long-lasting hormone implant that is now being offered. The biggest catch is that parents do not need to be notified at all for their children to have access to it.
Baltimore schools were groundbreaking in their approach of offering contraception to their students. They were among the first schools to provide an implant-based contraception method named Norplant 20 years ago. Norplant was taken out of the schools in recently years due to concern over its side effects, but this school year the city began offering another hormonal implant called Nexplanon. It is implanted under the skin and lasts up to three years.
Although distributing contraception in schools is already controversial, the real debate centers around students being able to access them without parental permission. By state law, students don't need parental consent to obtain contraceptives, no matter their age. There are eight health centers in city schools that are run by the Baltimore City Health Department and they offer birth control.
"Social engineering at its worst"
Carl Stokes, who is a Baltimore City Councilman, has been against the offering these contraception methods to students throughout his career.
"They need parental permission to take children to the zoo, but they can surgically implant such a thing into a child's arm. I don't think so. It's social engineering at its worst," he said.
Other arguments center on which schools and students are being urged to consider these contraception choices. Reverend Gregory B. Perkins, of St. Paul Community Baptist Church, believes that black students are being targeted in ways that white suburban students are not.
“Why do you target African-American girls? Why not other communities? I think the answer is racism,” he said. “We live in a promiscuous society. The challenges for a young person in terms of sexual activity is the same in Baltimore City as it is in Montgomery County.”
Although arguments against the contraception methods are fierce, there are those who still believe they are the best option for students. The former Health Commissioner, Dr. Peter Beilenson, was a staunch proponent of getting contraceptives into schools.
"Anything we can do to get kids through high school, to college and on to a career … by providing contraception and not an abortion, we should be doing it," he said. "I think it's very clear that we planned and allowed for young women to get their education under their belts before they had a planned pregnancy."
Long-acting & reversible
Long-acting reversible contraceptives, or LARCs, like Nexplanon are recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics for teens who aren't abstinent. They are long-lasting, but they are effective because students don’t have to remember to take a pill.
Many community members have praised Baltimore leaders for standing firm on their stance to keep these contraception methods available.
“They’re focusing on school success in a way that was not so much front in mind for school-based health providers in the past,” said Jon Schlitt, the president of the School-Based Health Alliance. “We have to be full-on partners who are working toward the goal of having every student graduate and succeed.”