Illustration credit: Stephanie B. Varela
Eighteen-year-old Gabi Acata graduated last June from Theodore Roosevelt High School with more than just a diploma. She also had a baby on the way. Acata found out she was pregnant late in the school year and was able to complete her studies. But for many Boyle Heights girls who become pregnant, this is not the case.
Getting pregnant and dropping out of school is not so unusual at Roosevelt, a school with one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Concerned about the impact on girls’ education, a nurse practitioner at Roosevelt’s health clinic approached Planned Parenthood three years ago and proposed a unique partnership. Planned Parenthood agreed, and today Roosevelt is the only high school in the school district with a Planned Parenthood clinic.
“It came about because of necessity,” says Serena Josel, public affairs director for the Los Angeles office of the national non-profit, which provides reproductive health care and sex education. The school “asked us to partner with them to make sure that students had better access to contraceptive methods.”
ROOSEVELT: A “HOT SPOT”
While teenage birth rates are on the decline in California and across the nation, LAUSD officials consider Roosevelt a “hot spot” when it comes to teen pregnancy.
Roosevelt students had a much higher rate of teen births than all California teens — with at least 53 live births per 1,000 girls at Roosevelt in 2006 compared to 37.8 births for every 1,000 teen girls statewide that year, according to the Roosevelt Planned Parenthood clinic. Since then, the teen birth rate continues to decline statewide. Today there are 32 live births per 1,000 — less than half of what it was in 1991, according to a 2009 report by the California Department of Public Health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention credits sex education ”“ along with easy access to contraception for teens ”“ for the statewide and national decline. And many experts praise California’s sex education policies as some of the best in the nation. Latinas, however, still have the highest teen birth rate of all ethnic groups ”“ at 50.8 per 1,000 teen girls, just under twice the overall teen birth rate in the state.
Planned Parenthood’s partnership with Roosevelt is an attempt to reach those who don’t have access to birth control and sex education. Sherry Medrano, the nurse practitioner who runs the Planned Parenthood clinic at Roose-velt, first began working at the school at 1997. Medrano initiated the partnership with Planned Parenthood. Before, she said, she could give girls pregnancy tests and provide prescriptions, but teens had no way to pay for birth control. With Planned Parenthood on site, contraceptives are now free.
NOT JUST CONTRACEPTION
About 40 percent of the visits to the clinic today are for birth control, says Medrano, while the rest are for physical exams, routine care and immunizations. Last year, the clinic had 2,500 visits, which includes students who visited multiple times. While Medrano believes the clinic is making a difference, school officials cannot provide comprehensive information regarding its effectiveness. Numbers are hard to come by, Medrano says, because of health privacy laws and the fact that students may get care at other clinics as well.
In the first three years of the partnership, however, the clinic has seen the number of pregnancy tests it gives climb dramatically. To Medrano, that demonstrates the need.
Outreach is important for the clinic. To get the word out, Medrano posts fliers in classrooms and makes presentations to the faculty. The clinic also uses teen advocates to make presentations in homeroom classes. Still, some students are unaware of the existence of the clinic or even the existence of Planned Parenthood.
When Guadalupe Sandoval, a pregnant teen from Roosevelt, was asked by Boyle Heights Beat if she knew there was a Planned Parenthood within the school, she answered, “I never even heard of it.”
In a Facebook survey of 55 local teens conducted by Boyle Heights Beat, 47 percent of those who answered said they did not know there was a Planned Parenthood at Roosevelt, while 42 percent were aware of it. Eleven percent reported they did not know anything about the Planned Parenthood organization. (For more on teen attitudes towards sex and birth control, see our Facebook survey story on this page.)
CRITICISM FROM SOME CHURCHES
Students are not the only ones in the community who are unfamiliar with Planned Parenthood. Still others question its motives. It faces especially strong criticism from the Catholic and Evangelical religious communities. Pastor Joe Guzmán, from the Rock of Salvation church in Boyle Heights, believes that Planned Parenthood’s emphasis is on helping patients to decide on whether to terminate a pregnancy. “It’s a counseling type of program that usually leads to an abortion decision,” he says. Guzmán believes that by educating teens about abstinence, more can be accomplished.
Medrano points out that the clinic at Roosevelt does not perform abortions or give out the morning-after pill. While many students visit the clinic for birth control, Medrano says abstinence is always the first option presented to students.
Acata, whose baby is due in January, also has become an advocate for abstinence. She says she practiced safe sex, but became pregnant when a condom broke. “The only way for you not to get pregnant is simply not having sex”, she says.
Visit PregnantYouth.info for free quick-reference guides available for educators, health providers, and social service professionals working with pregnant or parenting youth in California.