The program, funded by an initial investment of $10 million from Los Angeles County and $6 million from Planned Parenthood over three years, will offer a full range of birth control options, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy counseling, but not abortion, for an estimated 75,000 teens. The program will also train hundreds of teens to be “peer advocates” to help provide information about safe sex and relationships.
“Teens listen to other teens,” said Jennifer Rivera, 23, a Planned Parenthood staffer who will oversee the training.
Students will be able to walk into the clinics or make appointments and will be allowed to leave class for them. Information about the appointments will be in protected medical files not accessible to school officials. Under California law, minors can consent to certain medical services, such as receiving birth control or mental health counseling, and health care providers are not allowed to inform a parent without the minor’s permission.
The announcement comes as high schools and colleges have become a priority battleground for abortion rights advocates and antiabortion activists.
California has taken a leading role in pushing back against efforts by the Trump administration and conservative legislators to cut government funds for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, impose new restrictions on abortion and shift the conversation about teens and sex toward abstinence. In October, it became the first state to require its public colleges and universities to offer abortion medication under a law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D).
Five of the Planned Parenthood centers opened a few weeks into the school year. The rest are to be added before June. Officials involved in the project said the selected schools — in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest — were targeted because they are largely low-income and have no similar medical providers in the vicinity. Two public health officials, trained by Planned Parenthood, will be stationed full time at each school to provide education and counseling, and a Planned Parenthood nurse practitioner or other medical provider will come once a week.
Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and a former high school principal, said the program grew out of conversations about strategies for combating the area’s alarming rise in sexually transmitted diseases, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, among young people ages 15 to 24.
She said the clinics will be called “Wellbeing Centers” because they will do more than provide simple medical services: “We want to support their general well-being, the ups and downs of being a teen.”
In parent and community meetings before the launch, participants have been very supportive so far, said Sue Dunlap, president of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. But the organization is prepared for protest from groups that do not support its mission based on its experience working with schools in other capacities and in other areas.
“I do anticipate, as this becomes public, we will have very normal and healthy debate around sexuality and schools and what it is to be engaged in family communication around a healthy adolescence,” Dunlap said.
Planned Parenthood’s involvement in sex education has long been criticized by social conservative and religious groups. In April, Pacific Grove Middle School in California canceled a visit from Planned Parenthood educators after a mother got a Christian legal group involved. In October in Minnesota, Planned Parenthood’s support of a comprehensive sex education bill drew accusations from Students for Life, an antiabortion group, which said: “All of this is really just an opportunity for Planned Parenthood to force their way into schools and sell more abortions.”
In Los Angeles, Sister Paula Vandegaer, head of Volunteers for Life, which opposes abortion rights, said she is against the Planned Parenthood initiative because it “pushes sexuality beyond where they should without reference to families.”
“I am against them being in the schools,” she said. “They all have school nurses, and there’s no need for Planned Parenthood to co-opt the normal program for health in the school.”