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Contraception Conversation

Pregnancy prevention programs could soon say what most sex ed. classes can't

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State-funded teen-pregnancy prevention programs could soon be required to disclose what most N.C. sex education classes can't: what condoms are and how you can get them.

"It only makes sense," says Kay Phillips, executive director of the of the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coalition of North Carolina. "It's serving the students."

The proposal reflects changing Medicaid requirements, which require discussion of contraceptives, as well as a growing consensus among researchers that comprehensive sex education helps prevent pregnancies, says Sydney Atkinson, family planning and reproductive health unit supervisor of the Division of Public Health.

"Most research has shown in the last few years that comprehensive sex education is effective, whereas abstinence-only until marriage [education] has not been proven effective," Atkinson says.

State law now says school systems must offer abstinence-only sex education, though individual systems can teach students about contraceptive use if the school board approves. Most systems, however, haven't gone that route.

But the rule change affects only state-funded teen pregnancy prevention programs, says Chris Hoke, head of regulatory and legal affairs for the N.C. Division of Public Health. Such programs are often -- as they are in Mecklenburg County -- run by health departments. But schools systems, community agencies and other non-profit groups receive the grants as well.

The state funds 60 teen-pregnancy prevention projects, including two in Mecklenburg County. One program reaches out to older teenage males to prevent teens from becoming pregnant at all. The other project tries to keep teen parents from getting pregnant again. "They're generally identified through the kinds of channels you might imagine: school counselors and teachers who might identify these kids as being at high-risk," says Atkinson.

The N.C. Commission for Public Health is accepting public comment regarding the rules until Jan. 14 and could discuss the proposal again at a planned meeting Feb. 6 in Raleigh.

The rule change could take effect April 1. But if more than 10 people file objections with the N.C. Rules Review Commission, the proposal goes to the General Assembly for review.

The state legislature could pass a bill essentially repealing the change; otherwise the new requirement would take effect when the session ends.

At a hearing in Raleigh last month, reaction to the change was split, with three people speaking in favor and three people against the proposal, Atkinson says. Hoke says the "vast, vast majority" of written comments he's received from people, including physicians, teachers and at least one health department worker, have backed the changes. A few groups have opposed the action.

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