A New Approach To The Morning After

The French government says it's just being pragmatic. Teenagers have sex. They make mistakes. And pregnancy shouldn't be one of them. So by the end of the year, nurses in public high schools throughout France will be authorized to distribute a "morning after" pill to some 1.7 million French girls, by request. Free.

Norlevo, an estrogen-free contraceptive made from the synthetic hormone levonorgestrel, works by preventing a fertilized egg from attaching itself to the wall of the uterus. If ingested within 24 hours, the pill is 95 percent effective. Available over the counter in France, it is sold by prescription only in the United States. "Girls should be able to get it where they spend most of their time," says Dr. Laure Sirinelli of Broussais Hospital in Paris, "and that's at school."

French parents, however, are wondering why they weren't consulted. "This isn't the way to solve the problem," says Marie-Christine Molinari, spokeswoman for one parents' group. The Roman Catholic Church is also protesting the move. "It encourages kids to have sex without really thinking," says Dominique de Noray, president of a Catholic research center in Paris. Others worry that the pill doesn't protect against sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.

Segolene Royal, the minister responsible for the program, claims the pill will be carefully regulated as part of a nationwide sex-ed campaign. "We're not just going to have nurses at the door handing out these pills like aspirin," says Annie Filloux, a nurse at a Paris high school. The pill may have its pitfalls, but it's better than most alternatives. And for thousands of French girls, it's now a viable option.