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The battle over birth control - Contraceptives in schools. DuSable clinic at heart of controversy.

By Hattie ClarkStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / November 18, 1986


Marie Simpson is a widow and grandmother who's bewildered when she has to count all her grandchildren. She names and numbers them on her fingers up to 10, then stops. ``I can't count 'em,'' she says, adding that some were born in wedlock, some out. Some had teen mothers; some didn't.

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Although she's a shy woman and doesn't speak much above a whisper, Mrs. Simpson knows what she wants. She wants to curb the high rate of teen pregnancies - even if it means giving out contraceptives at school-based clinics. In 1985, teen pregnancy estimates topped one million for 15 to 19-year-olds, plus an additional 30,000 for teen-agers under 15 years of age.

Mrs. Simpson showed up at a meeting on Chicago's South Side to lend support to the DuSable-Bogan health clinic that has met with a blitz of opposition for dispensing birth-control devices. The clinic is based within DuSable High School - and that's where the snag is.

Verbal skirmishes over the clinic's birth control program erupted long ago between advocates and critics, but not until recently did the imbroglio land in the legal arena.

Thirteen black clergymen from the South Side, parents, and an anti-abortion group filed suit this fall in Cook County's Circuit Court to halt the handing out of contraceptives at DuSable-Bogan. Although the clinic itself isn't a defendant in the suit, multiple charges were brought against the Illinois Department of Public Aid, the Chicago School Board, and the DuSable principal.

The list of charges includes violation of students' privacy because of clinic questions relating to sexual activity; failure to warn parents of risks involved in the use of certain birth control devices; an invasion of parents' rights to instruct their children; and violation of a Supreme Court ruling requiring school neutrality on issues involving religion (the use of contraceptives is counter to some peoples' religious beliefs). The suit also charges that the clinic program is designed to control black population.

Ann Stull, secretary for Pro Life/Pro Family Coalition, a plaintiff in the suit, says, ``there are some things you can't fix quickly because they have been wrong for so long.'' And she views the dispensing of contraceptives at schools as ``a quick fix, a technical answer instead of character reformation.''

The Rev. Hiram C. Crawford, pastor of Israel Methodist Community Church and a plaintiff, also criticizes the clinic on moral grounds. ``It pushes fornication,'' he says, and ``usurps the authority of parents and church.''

Although the clinic exists, rent-free, beneath DuSable's roof, it's a separate entity funded by the Illinois Department of Public Aid and private foundations. The professional medical staff offers 10 health services to students, most of whom can't afford private health care. Much of the clinic's work reaps accolades or goes quietly unnoticed. It's the birth control aspect that has catapulted the name of DuSable onto local and national TV, into newspaper and magazine headlines, into a legal case, and onto the lips of people who previously had never heard of the all-black school on the city's South Side.

Patricia Davis-Scott, director of the comprehensive health clinic, which started in July, 1985, attests that the counseling sessions focus first on abstinence, and in no way is the clinic involved in abortions or abortion counseling. Written parental consent is mandatory, before any contraceptives are handed out, she says. Students also must pass physicals and be free from drug, alcohol, and tobacco use, she adds.

DuSable-Bogan is just one of 17 school-based clinics across the country that actually distributes contraceptives. Another 32 clinics write prescriptions for birth-control devices, and an additional dozen send students to various nearby agencies for such services. These figures, soon to be updated, were tallied by the Support Center for School-Based Clinics in Houston. The center's new count is expected to include 11 more clinics, an indication of a growing acceptance of school-based health centers that get into the family-planning act.