A proposal to dispense free birth control devices at a clinic near T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria is arousing controversy and concern among city residents and officials.
Tonight, the City Council will receive a task force report recommending that it explore the possibility of funding a health clinic near or in the school to dispense condoms, diaphragms and similar devices.
"I don't really want to get into the controversy, because I don't think the community is ready," said School Board Chairman Lou Cook. "If a comprehensive health clinic dropped from the sky and landed at Bradlee Shopping Center near the school it would be wonderful, but at this stage we're scratching away trying to find enough money for academics and teachers' salaries."
The Alexandria United Way and Youth Services Commission task force, however, said teen-age pregancy and its ensuing problems have reached epidemic proportions and that school-based clinics are one possible solution.
In 1983, 350 Alexandria unwed teen-agers were reported to have become pregnant, the highest percentage in Northern Virginia, according to the Virginia Center for Health Statistics.
"We believe that neither abortions or teen parenthood is really a healthy solution to teen pregnancy," said Francine G. Rosenfeld, who headed the task force. Because similar clinics have achieved some success in other parts of the country, Rosenfeld said it was suggested as an answer here to the teen-age pregnancy, which often means poverty for another generation.
The Catholic Diocese of Arlington, which includes Alexandria in its jurisdiction and has 205,000 registered members, immediately opposed such a plan.
"The schools should not be involved," said Ellen McCloskey, spokeswoman for the diocese. "It's a matter between between parent and student." Rather than offering birth control, McCloskey said, the answer to teen pregnancy lies in the "courage to say 'no' to premarital sex."
Mayor James P. Moran Jr., who has two children at T.C. Williams, said he had misgivings about dispensing birth control devices because the availability may condone teen sex. "As strange as this may sound, it's almost too easy to have a baby as a teen-ager. There's not much of a stigma attached anymore. It's almost a cool thing to do," Moran said.
"It's going to split into two camps," predicted PTA council President Michael Oliver: "Those who say better this than unwanted pregnancies, and the parents who want to deal with it themselves."
The City Council and the School Board are both scheduled to discuss the clinic this spring, as are officials in the D.C. public schools. Since District Mayor Marion Barry's panel recommended establishing a similar health clinic at Anacostia High School last year, school spokeswoman Janice Cromer said, "we're still grappling with the issue."