NEW YORK, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Hundreds of New York City high schools students have received morning-after pills since the launch of a program that provides emergency contraception through public school nurses, the city's health department said on Monday.
Many schools around the nation have long made condoms available to students, but New York health officials said they believe the city is the first to make hormonal contraceptives available.
The program, launched in 13 high schools last year, gives students access to emergency contraceptive pills, designed to prevent pregnancy following unprotected sex or a contraceptive failure if taken within 72 hours, as well as condoms, birth- control pills and pregnancy testing.
The program is designed to battle the problem of unplanned pregnancies among teens, health officials said.
"In New York City over 7,000 young women become pregnant by age 17, 90 percent of which are unplanned," Alexandra Waldhorn, a health department spokeswoman, said in an e-mail.
"We are committed to trying new approaches, like this pilot program in place since January 2011, to improve a situation that can have lifelong consequences," she said.
Parents were informed of the program from the start and given the choice of opting out of any or all of the services but have largely supported the program, Waldhorn said.
Between 1 and 2 percent of parents sent back an opt-out form, she said.
Although the program has been in place since early last year, it was thrust into the public spotlight over the weekend when it was first reported by the New York Post.
The program - known as CATCH for Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Healthcare - is an extension of services that already were available to about a quarter of all New York public school students through privately run health clinics.
The 13 public schools were chosen because such facilities were not available nearby.
In the last school year, 567 students received emergency contraception and 580 students received Reclipsen, a birth-control pill, through the program.
Some anti-abortion advocates object to the morning-after drugs, which work by preventing the release of an egg, preventing fertilization or stopping a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus.
The National Association of School Nurses, contacted by the Post, said it too did not know of any similar program in the nation. (Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Philip Barbara)