Seattle Public Schools Provide Free Birth Control

by Rachel Sanoff

In April 2015, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy released a survey revealing that the primary reason most teens (68 percent) don't use birth control is that they don't want their parents to find out. Take Charge, a Washington State Medicaid Program focused on providing interested minors with contraceptives, is combating this culture of fear by establishing school-based reproductive health clinics at Seattle public schools.Students younger than 19 years old, who are also lucky enough to reside in Seattle and attend certain middle and high schools, can stop by a fully-functioning sexual health clinic in between their classes. They are able to receive birth control prescriptions, IUD insertions, Nexplanon implants, and counseling. Everything is completely free of charge and doesn't require their family's private insurance. By eliminating the necessity of parental involvement in receiving reproductive healthcare, the program is "removing a major barrier for teens who are too scared to talk to their parents."In 2010, the school-based clinics even started providing free long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs), which include IUDs. Seattle's progressive health department fought to have them available in schools after the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists released a 2009 report in which LARCs were listed as the most effective contraceptives for sexually active teenage girls. In the five years since they became available, hundreds of teenagers have taken advantage of them. Neighborcare Health, a Seattle nonprofit organization offering healthcare to impoverished and uninsured families, also manages six of the school-based health clinics and has implanted 500 IUDs in that relatively short time period. Requests for IUDs have also grown every year, thanks to "having a clinic on site [that] draws in students who might not otherwise seek out birth control." The first year in which they were available, only 10 teenage girls asked for IUDs. In the 2013-2014 school year, 170 students came to the clinics for IUDs.The school-based clinics have beautifully created a culture that fosters health, independence, and support amongst young women. If students seek out help at the clinic, they are encouraged to decide which birth control is best for them on their own after learning the pros and cons of each. They are informed of all of their options, rather than having to listen to a cold doctor push the Pill on them as though it is their only choice (which is an experience many women have). Students are always welcome to bring friends with them for support and comfort. Katie Acker, who works in the Neighborcare clinic in Chief Sealth International School, told Grist about an awe-inspiring moment "in which almost the entire school gymnastics team crowded into an exam room while their teammate got her IUD placed."Acker further described the healthy openness that the presence of the clinics has built; “It’s absolutely amazing and crazy. ...The birth control culture, for lack of a better term, and the conversations have just changed so much. ...Conversations are just happening so openly and so excitedly. There’s so much pride around, ‘I’ve got this method, I’ve got this method.’ It’s not a hush-hush thing anymore." How amazing of a resource would this have been when you were in high school? The Journal of Adolescent Health released a study in 2014 that showed the United States to have the highest teen pregnancy rates of any industrialized country, and we now know the reason that most sexually active teens forgo birth control. Seattle is able to utilize school-based clinics because Washington law dictates "that girls can receive reproductive health care at any age without consent of their parents." Hopefully more and more states will begin to recognize teenage bodily autonomy and reproductive health, following Washington's lead.As one student at Chief Sealth said:

“I don’t think I really would have necessarily thought about [birth control], until I’d come here and hear people talking about it … It probably wouldn’t even have crossed my mind that that was an option.” Another girl echoed her opinion; " ...I don’t really talk to my parents about [birth control]. ... So if I would’ve had to talk to my parents about the whole birth control thing, I probably wouldn’t [have it].”

For more in-depth reporting about the program at Chief Sealth, read Eve Andrews two-part story at Grist .