By Lindsey Tanner
NEW YORK — It's a campaign believed to be unprecedented in its size and aggressiveness: New York City is dispensing the morning-after pill to girls as young as 14 at more than 50 public high schools, sometimes even before they have had sex.
The effort to combat teen pregnancy in the nation's largest city contrasts sharply with the views of politicians and school systems in more conservative parts of the country.
Valerie Huber, president of the National Abstinence Education Association in Washington, calls it "a terrible case once again of bigotry of low expectations" — presuming that teen girls will have sex anyway, and effectively endorsing that.
But some doctors say more schools should follow New York's lead.
Emergency contraception is safe and effective "if you use it in a timely fashion. It provides relief or solace to a young woman or man who has made a mistake but doesn't want to have to live with that mistake for the rest of their lives," said Dr. Cora Breuner, a Seattle physician and member of an American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on teen health.
Plan B emergency contraception is about 90 percent effective at preventing pregnancy if taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex.
New York's program was phased in at health clinics at about 40 schools in the 1-million-student school system starting about four years ago. Since January 2011, it has expanded to 13 additional schools that don't have clinics. The little-known program was reported on Sunday by the New York Post.
Nurse practitioners or physicians dispense the pills, and parents can sign an opt-out form preventing their daughters from taking part. Only about 1 to 2 percent of parents have opted out, according to the city Health Department.
The program is seen as a way to reduce a startling number: More than 7,000 New York City girls ages 15 to 17 get pregnant each year. More than two-thirds of those pregnancies end in abortions.
"We are committed to trying new approaches ... to improve a situation that can have lifelong consequences," the Health Department said in a statement.
In the 2011-12 school year, 576 girls got the pills at the 13 added schools, said Deborah Kaplan, an assistant health commissioner.