Two-thirds in poll favor schools supplying birth control

WASHINGTON — People decisively favor letting their public schools provide birth control to students, but they also voice misgivings that divide them along generational, income and racial lines, a poll showed.

Sixty-seven percent support giving contraceptives to students, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll. About as many — 62 percent — said they believe providing birth control reduces the number of teenage pregnancies.

“Kids are kids,” said Danielle Kessenger, 39, a mother of three young children from Jacksonville, Fla., who supports providing contraceptives to those who request them. “I was a teenager once, and parents don’t know everything, though we think we do.”

Yet most who support schools distributing contraceptives prefer that they go to children whose parents have consented. People are also closely divided over whether sex education and birth control are more effective than stressing morality and abstinence, and whether giving contraceptives to teenagers encourages them to have sexual intercourse.

“It’s not the school’s place to be parents,” said Robert Shaw, 53, a telecommunications company manager from Duncanville, Texas. “For a school to provide birth control, it’s almost like the school saying, ‘You should go out and have sex.’ “

Those surveyed were not asked to distinguish between giving contraceptives to boys or girls.

The survey was conducted in late October after a school board in Portland, Maine, voted to let a middle school health center provide students with full contraceptive services. The school’s students are sixth- through eighth-graders, where most children are 11 to 13 years old, and do not have to tell their parents about services they receive.

Portland school officials plan to consider a proposal soon that would let parents forbid their children from receiving prescription contraceptives, including birth control pills.

Teenage pregnancy rates have declined to about 75 per 1,000, down from a 1990 peak of 117, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research center. Still, nearly half of teens aged 15 to 19 report having had sex at least once, and almost 750,000 of them a year become pregnant.

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