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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: http://www.humanite.fr/26_04_2011-c...

by Maud Dugrand

Free Contraception for High School Students in Île-de-France

Translated Tuesday 7 June 2011, by Sarah Peak and reviewed by Henry Crapo

April 26 saw Île-de-France, the region containing Paris and its surrounding suburbs, present its “contraception health pass” accessible in high schools, vocational education centres, and institutes of health and social education. 159,000 teenagers could benefit from this.

On April 26 the Île-de-France region presented its “contraception health pass” in the Elisa-Lemonnier high school in the 12th district of Paris. 159,000 high school students therefore now have the possibility to ask their school nurse for a coupon that will allow them to have two doctor’s appointments, to carry out blood tests and medical check-ups, and of course to have access to all existing forms of contraception freely and anonymously during a 6 month period.

Prevent unwanted pregnancies

The aim is to improve the prevention of unwanted pregnancies and to move toward a situation of “autonomy for young people who, when we have confidence in them, are capable of handling their own contraception” explains Henriette Zoughébi, vice-president for high schools and educational politics for the region. But also to combat sexism, to make easier the moment of that first relationship that takes place around the age of seventeen, and finally to combat preconceived notions that are hard to undo: yes, 13,500 minors resorted to having abortions in 2009. “But 40% of pregnant minors had abortions in 1975, it is 60% today. That young people can have children when they want, that is the improvement” adds Henriette Zoughébi. Yet the nurses must be supported in their work. “If their responsibilities grow, it is better to take into account and re-evaluate their status so that they will be better paid” says the vice-president.

This is not the direction of the policies imposed by the Minister of National Education, Luc Chatel. He did however insist upon being present on April 26, next to Jean-Paul Huchon (President of the Regional Coucil of Île-de-France), for the presentation of the plan. It was a question of redeeming himself after the polemics with which he opposed Ségolène Royal in 2009, when she was launching a similar campaign as President of the Regional Council of Poitou-Charentes. Luc Chatel said on April 26 that he did not like “to be faced with a fait accompli”, that had pushed him to declare at the time that “it is not the rôle of National Education to replace family planning.”

From the start of the project, in Île-de-France, the region has associated itself with the three Chief Education Officers and with the ministry, “not by concession, but by conviction” adds Henriette Zoughébi. “The aim was that we would succeed in putting into place this access, by improving the system. This means by offering a wide range of contraceptives, but also by strongly involving boys.” A global educational job that will need to involve teachers and doctors, but also parents, among which groups the Île-de-France branches of the two main labor unions, the Federation of Parents of Pupils (FCPE) and the Federation of Parents of Pupils in Public Education (Peep), have declared themselves in favour of the initiative. “The young people can now go to a professional whom they know, can break the taboo of sexuality and also break the wall of money and guarantee confidentiality” declared Jean-Paul Hichon on April 26, before an 11th year class.

Extend the plan to all French regions

At the end of the six months, young people will move towards family planning who will deliver contraception freely. It remains to extend the system to all the French regions. Luc Chatel has said he is ready to work in this way, “on the condition that the approach is global and of an educational vocation.” It’s his way of recalling that the solitary initiative of Ségolène Royal had strongly disturbed him.

A pill that still is hard to swallow

More effective, in smaller doses, therefore with less secondary side effects: half of the pills consumed by women are said to be “third-generation” pills. However they cost even more, and of the twenty-six that are currently on the market, only one is reimbursed by Social Security. On March 8, Xavier Bertrand, Minister of Health, had declared to want to change “the rules of the game, so there will not be half of the female population who pay for their method of contraception themselves, and so that others who could benefit from this third-generation pill will do so, where they do not at present, for financial reasons.” When will we see action?

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