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Task Force Recommends Contraceptive Access in Denver High Schools

Denver, CO

A 43-member health task force has recommended that birth control and emergency contraception be available in health clinics in six Denver high schools.1 The school board has not yet voted on the recommendation, but the proposal is already eliciting reactions from health professionals, parents, and other community members.2

Denver Health, a health-care institution run by the city, operates both community and school-based clinics throughout the city.3 Currently, students requesting contraceptives at a school clinic are referred to one of the community clinics.4 However, health care providers are concerned that many students do not follow up at the community clinics for a variety of reasons including lack of transportation.5

Denver’s teen birth rate is nearly twice that of Colorado’s statewide average of 24.3 births for every 1,000 girls aged 15–17. Nonetheless, some groups in Denver oppose implementing the recommendation. The spokeswoman for the Denver Archdiocese claims that offering birth control “would facilitate an atmosphere of sexual license.” A representative of Colorado Right to Life also argued that the availability of contraceptives will “encourage more sexual activity.”6

The director of Denver Health’s school-based clinics, however, said that while the issue is controversial, “teenagers are sexually active, and teen pregnancy is one of the largest reasons for the dropout of girls from high schools.” A task force member also emphasized, “There is a direct link between academic achievement and dropout rates and the pregnancy.”7

Other cities, including Baltimore and Seattle, have had success in lowering teen birth rates by making birth control available in school. Still the practice is not widespread, as 70 percent of the nation’s school-based health centers are prohibited from even discussing contraception.8

If the school board adopts the task force’s recommendations, it will then have to work out a host of issues related to parental permission and notification.  Parents already have to consent for their children to use the health clinics,9 and a task force member emphasized that a “legal analysis” of parental notification requirements would be necessary before making contraceptives available.10 In the end, individual high schools may make their own decisions about contraceptive access.11

SIECUS will continue to monitor the situation.


  1. Katy Human and Jeremy P. Meyer, “Do schools have birth-control role,” Denver Post, 31 October 2007, accessed 1 November 2007, <>.  
  2. “Task force: Give teens birth control,” Vail Daily (CO), 31 October 2007, accessed 1 November 2007, <>.
  3. Human and Meyer, “Do schools have birth-control role.”
  4. Jeremy P. Meyer, “Access to DPS birth control up for debate,” Denver Post, 1 November 2007, accessed 1 November 2007, <>.
  5. Human and Meyer, “Do schools have birth-control role.”
  6. “Task force: Give teens birth control.”
  7. Ibid.
  8. Meyer, “Access to DPS birth control.”
  9. Human and Meyer, “Do schools have birth-control role.”
  10. Meyer, “Access to DPS birth control.”
  11. Human and Meyer, “Do schools have birth-control role.”