NYC Mandates SexEd

New York City Will Mandate Sex Education

By  and ANNA M. PHILLIPS
Published: August 9, 2011, The New York Times

For the first time in nearly two decades, students in New York City’s public middle and high schools will be required to take sex-education classes beginning this school year, using a curriculum that includes lessons on how to use a condom and the appropriate age for sexual activity.

The new mandate is part of a broader strategy the Bloomberg administration announced last week to improve the lives of black and Latino teenagers. According to city statistics, those teenagers are far more likely than their white counterparts to have unplanned pregnancies and contract sexually transmitted diseases.

“It’s obviously something that applies to all boys and all girls,” said Linda I. Gibbs, the deputy mayor for health and human services. “But when we look at the biggest disadvantages that kids in our city face, it is blacks and Latinos that are most affected by the consequences of early sexual behavior and unprotected sex.”

The change will bring a measure of cohesion to a patchwork system of programs largely chosen by school principals.

It will also bring to New York the roiling national debate about what, exactly, schools should teach students about sex.

Nationwide, one in four teenagers between 2006 and 2008 learned about abstinence without receiving any instruction in schools about contraceptive methods, according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, which studies reproductive health. As of January, 20 states and the District of Columbia mandated sex and H.I.V. education in schools. An additional 12 states, New York included, required H.I.V. education only, according to a policy paper published by the institute.

New York City’s new mandate goes beyond the state’s requirement that middle and high school students take one semester of health education classes. The city’s mandate calls for schools to teach a semester of sex education in 6th or 7th grade, and again in 9th or 10th grade, suggesting they use HealthSmart and Reducing the Risk, out-of-the-box sets of lessons that have been recommended since 2007. A city survey of principals last year found that 64 percent of middle schools were using the HealthSmart curriculum.

For the Bloomberg administration, which last week announced a three-year, $130 million initiative to improve the lives of young minority men in the city, the sex-education mandate joins a number of other public health efforts — like the mayor’s push to reduce residents’ intake of salt and sugary sodas — that have sometimes been criticized as interventionist. It is also unusual because the city does not often tell schools what to teach.

“We have a responsibility to provide a variety of options to support our students, and sex education is one of them,” the chancellor, Dennis M. Walcott, said in an interview on Monday.

Parents will be able to have their children opt out of the lessons on birth-control methods. City officials said that while there would be frank discussions with students as young as 11 on topics like anatomy, pubertypregnancy and the risks of unprotected sex, the focus was to get students to wait until they were older to experiment. At the same time, knowing that many teenagers are sexually active, the administration wants to teach them about safe sex in the hopes of reducing pregnancy, disease and dropouts.

Some are already preparing for a backlash.

“We’re going to have to be the bridge between the chancellor’s requirements and the community,” said Casimiro Cibelli, principal of Middle School 142 in the Baychester section of the Bronx, where many of the students come from immigrant, religious families with traditional views on sex. “Hopefully, we’ll allay their concerns because of their trust in us.”

At Mr. Cibelli’s school, the current semester-long health course does not stray from subjects like nutrition and physical fitness.

The new classes, which will be coeducational, could be incorporated into existing health education classes, so principals will not have to scramble to find additional instructional time. The classes would include a mix of lectures, perhaps using statistics to show that while middle school students might brag about having sex, not many of them actually do; group discussions about, for example, why teenagers are often resistant to condoms; and role-playing exercises that might include techniques to fend off unwanted advances.

Schools that have not been offering sex education — the number is unclear because the city’s Department of Education has not kept a tally, a spokeswoman said — can hire a teacher to do it or assign the task to one who is already on the staff. The department will offer training sessions before the start of classes Sept. 8.

Some New Yorkers of older generations remember explicit sex-education classes with frank talk about libido and demonstrations of how to use a diaphragm.

In 1987, the state mandated the adoption of an H.I.V./AIDS curriculum in every school. For students in the city, that has meant at least five class sessions each year, from kindergarten through 12th grade. In those classes, younger students are taught to avoid touching open wounds, and older ones are talked to about sex, but not necessarily about preventing pregnancies.

Opposition from religious groups and school board members eventually defeated a city mandate approved in the 1980s for a sex-education curriculum. But a survey by NARAL Pro-Choice New York in 2009 found that 81 percent of city voters thought sex education should be taught in public schools.

High schools in New York have been distributing condoms for more than 20 years. In the new sex-education classes, teachers will describe how to use them, and why, going where some schools have never gone before. To others, though, the topic will be familiar territory.

At John Dewey High School in Gravesend, Brooklyn, 10th graders already take a nine-week course called Human Sexuality, which the school’s health teachers designed some years ago and which covers many of the same topics that the city will require.

Some schools have relied on nonprofit or community groups like Planned Parenthood and the Door to teach their sex-education classes, an arrangement that is likely to continue once the new policy takes effect.

Mary Cheng, a health teacher at Murry Bergtraum High School in Lower Manhattan, said she devoted two months of students’ required five-month health class to sex education, combining lessons from the recommended high school curriculum with materials of her own. Ultimately, it will be up to schools to design the lessons; they will have until the beginning of the second semester to begin the classes.

“We will work with our schools and school communities to ensure they are prepared,” Mr. Walcott said.

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No Birth Control, But Viagra Is Okay

Fox News hates women.

Bill O’Reilly Joins the War on Women

O’Reilly Blames Women’s Health Care ‘Breast Feeding Stuff’ For High Unemployment

By Marie Diamond on Aug 3, 2011 at 2:10 pm, Think Progress

Fox host Bill O’Reilly has worked himself into a lather over the Obama administration’s recent decision to require new health insurance plans to cover birth control without co-pays. Last week he declared that women don’t deserve government subsidized birth control because they’re too “blasted out of their minds” during sex to use it. Yesterday during an interview with Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), O’Reilly went a step further in his tirade against women’s health care and said it was the reason businesses aren’t hiring:

O’REILLY: Now the federal government is ordering the health insurance companies to pay for all breast feeding stuff, all female birth control stuff, all preventative measures for doctors for ladies that go in. What do you think that’s gonna do? That’s going to inhibit hiring even more!

KUCINICH: Frankly, we ought to be very concerned about women’s health care.

O’REILLY: I am concerned, but they’re not going to expand and hire if they have to pay higher health care premiums for workers! Businesses aren’t going to do it…You can’t have both. You can’t have a welfare state and a robust capitalist system.

By “breast feeding stuff,” O’Reilly was railing about the fact that under the administration’s ruling, health insurers will be required to pay for a range of preventative care services, including HPV, DNA, and HIV screening, and the costs for renting breastfeeding equipment. Women’s premiums will actually pay for the services. But apparently conservatives like O’Reilly only support “family values” as long as the government never has to spend a dime to help poor women care for their children.

It’s also surprising that a professed fiscal conservative would be opposed to preventative health care for women, which not only improves the health of women and their families, but saves the government money when illness is caught and treated early on.

O’Reilly is wrong to suggest that women’s health care is the reason businesses aren’t hiring. Corporations are reaping enormous profits and sitting on a record pile of cash, but are still sending jobs overseas or hiring less than they were before the recession. Additionally, according to a recent Wall Street Journal survey, “the main reason U.S. companies are reluctant to step up hiring is scant demand, rather than uncertainty over government policies.”

Birth Control Will No Longer Require Copay

Obama Administration: Health Insurers Must Cover Birth Control With No Copays

Obama Birth Control Health Insurance
RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR   08/ 1/11 10:48 AM ET   AP

WASHINGTON — Health insurance plans must cover birth control as preventive care for women, with no copays, the Obama administration said Monday in a decision with far-reaching implications for health care as well as social mores.

The requirement is part of a broad expansion of coverage for women’s preventive care under President Barack Obama’s health care law. Also to be covered without copays are breast pumps for nursing mothers, an annual “well-woman” physical, screening for the virus that causes cervical cancer and for diabetes during pregnancy, counseling on domestic violence, and other services.

“These historic guidelines are based on science and existing (medical) literature and will help ensure women get the preventive health benefits they need,” said Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

The new requirements will take effect Jan. 1, 2013, in most cases. Over time, they are expected to apply to most employer-based insurance plans, as well as coverage purchased individually. Plans that are considered “grandfathered” under the law will not be affected, at least initially. Consumers should check with their health insurance plan administrator.

Sebelius acted after a near-unanimous recommendation last month from a panel of experts convened by the prestigious Institute of Medicine, which advises the government. Panel chairwoman Linda Rosenstock, dean of public health at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that prevention of unintended pregnancies is essential for the psychological, emotional and physical health of women.

Birth control use is virtually universal in the United States, according to a government study issued last summer. Generic versions of the pill are available for as little as $9 a month. Still, about half of all pregnancies are unplanned. Many are among women using some form of contraception, and forgetting to take the pill is a major reason.

Contraception is about more than simply preventing pregnancy – it can help make a woman’s next pregnancy healthier by spacing births far enough apart, generally 18 months to two years. Research links closely spaced births to a risk of such problems as prematurity, low birth weight, even autism. Research has shown that even modest copays for medical care can discourage use.

In a nod to social and religious conservatives, the rules issued Monday by Sebelius include a provision that would allow religious institutions to opt out of offering birth control coverage. However, many conservatives are supporting legislation by Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., that would codify a range of exceptions to the new health care law on religious and conscience grounds.

Although the new women’s preventive services will be free of any additional charge to patients, somebody will have to pay. The cost will be spread among other people with health insurance, resulting in slightly higher premiums. That may be offset to some degree with savings from diseases prevented, or pregnancies that are planned to minimize any potential ill effects to the mother and baby.

The administration did allow insurers some leeway in determining what they will cover. For example, health plans will be able to charge copays for branded drugs in cases where a generic version is just as effective and safe for the patient.

Finally, Some Good News For Women’s Reproductive Health!

Medical Panel Recommends No-Cost Birth Control

by JULIE ROVNER  05:45 pm July 19, 2011 NPR

Health insurance plans may soon have to offer prescription contraception at no upfront cost to women.

Will all health insurance plans soon have to offer all FDA-approved forms of prescription contraception at no upfront cost to women? They will if Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius accepts the recommendations released today from an expert panel of the Institute of Medicine.

The study — released a day early — actually calls for eight additional services for women to be added to the list of preventive care patients should be offered with no cost-sharing. The new services include annual “well-woman” visits; screening of pregnant women for gestational diabetes; screening for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV; more support for breast-feeding mothers; and counseling and screening for possible domestic violence.

But it’s clearly the recommendation for free contraception that’s getting the headlines, as it probably should, since the Guttmacher Institute estimates that 98 percent of sexually active women will use contraception at some point during their reproductive years, and that cost concerns are frequently cited as a reason for inconsistent use or use of a less then optimal method.

In fact, Guttmacher said in testimony submitted to the IoM earlier this year, “Women citing cost concerns were twice as likely as other women to rely on condoms or less effective methods like withdrawal or periodic abstinence.”

The IoM panel was firm in rejecting claims by opponents, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, that “to prevent pregnancy is not to prevent a disease.”

“Women with unintended pregnancies are more likely to receive delayed or no prenatal care and to smoke, consume alcohol, be depressed, and experience domestic violence during pregnancy, the panel wrote. “Unintended pregnancy also increases the risk of babies being born preterm or at a low birth weight, both of which raise their chances of health and developmental problems,” it noted.

Women’s groups were thrilled with the report. “Today’s news marks one of the biggest advances for women’s health in a generation,” said NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan. “We are confident that the Obama administration will adopt the IOM’s science-based recommendation and make affordable contraception a reality for all women.”

Members of Congress who had pushed for the inclusion of contraception as a preventive benefit added their praise.

“The IOM’s recommendation to include all FDA contraceptive methods as a critical preventative service—without cost sharing—and to cover the patient education and counseling necessary to ensure each woman can choose the method best for her, is a critical step in empowering all women to plan their pregnancies,” said Rep. Lois Capps, D-Calif.

But not everyone applauded the recommendations.

“Several drugs have been approved by the FDA to be legally categorized as ’emergency contraceptives,’ despite functioning in ways that can destroy a preborn baby before or after implanting in the mother’s womb,” said Jeanne Monahan of the conservative Family Research Council. “A federal mandate to all insurance plans to include drugs such as ella essentially would mandate coverage for abortion. Inclusion of contraceptives also undermines conscience protections that President Obama promised would be maintained.”