Opponents succeed in putting the issue to a vote

September 12, 2009
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By Seth Daniel

seth@reverejournal.com

Voters this November will be called to not only decide which candidates they prefer, but also whether or not the schools need to rethink the Family Choice Contraception program offered at the Revere High School’s School-based Health Center.

Opponents got a binding question placed on the November ballot this week, needing 1,875 and submitting 1,909 certified signatures on Tuesday.

“They are all set [to be on the ballot],” said Diane Colella of the Election Department.

Kathy Magno and Robert Aufiero have spearheaded the signature campaign locally and said they are happy to see the matter might have a chance to be reconsidered.

“We’re very, very happy,” said Magno. “We’re happy because we feel this is another opportunity for the community to have a say on this.”

The school-based health center is run by Mass General Hospital and, while separate from the high school, it occupies space in the high school for no rent. The new policy, okayed by the School Committee last February under the guise of rising pregnancy rates, allows parents in the health center to opt into a program that would allow the center to disburse contraceptives to their children, including birth control pills and the Morning After pill.

Previously, students who sought contraceptives at the center were advised to seek them out at two other locations in the city.

City election officials said Tuesday that they had certified enough signatures to get the binding question on November ballot.

Officially the question reads, “Should the School Committee temporarily suspend the distribution of contraception and Plan B (known as the ‘Morning after Pill’) at Revere High School and form an advisory council, that includes parents and others pursuant to the Massachusetts General Laws, to evaluate the health risks and benefits of both contraception and abstinence. Such council shall submit recommendations to the School Committee for consideration prior to their deciding whether to lift the suspension.”

So the question doesn’t require the schools to stop the program altogether if passed, but rather to suspend the program until there is more public discussion.

Many leading the signature campaign didn’t agree morally with the policy, and they also had strong objections to the very quiet way it was passed by the School Committee last February. The matter wasn’t even listed on the committee’s agenda for that night’s meeting.

After some heated meetings last spring and in the early summer, many in opposition to the policy decided they would pursue a binding ballot question. Since that time, they have been gathering signatures and apparently had quite a presence throughout the city over the past Labor Day weekend.

Magno said they got a lot of different opinions from those who signed the petition.

“Even if they felt that contraceptives had a place in the schools, they didn’t approve of not having more community input and discussion,” she said. “Some felt that [offering] the Morning After pill was crossing the line. We got that a lot. Then there were those who felt it didn’t belong in the schools at all.”

School Superintendent Paul Dakin said he didn’t understand the opposition, calling it a Catholic issue and one that wished to take rights away from parents.

“Clearly, it’s a Catholic, religious issue with them,” he said. “My position is still that I don’t see why some people have the right to take away the rights of some others…Where are they going to stop it? Where does a religious group stop their efforts?”

He said that any parent who doesn’t want this service doesn’t have to sign up for the health center, and, furthermore, anyone who signs up for the health center can opt out of the contraception program.

“I don’t see where the church has the right to dictate what decisions a parent, doctor and kid makes about health,” he said.

As the process is spelled out, anyone who objects to the question has the right to protest it in writing to the City Council or School Committee on September 10 or 11.

The Board of Election Commissioners would hear any objections and would have four days to resolve them.

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