NEW YORK (AP) — As part of a campaign against teen pregnancy, New York City health officials are promoting a smartphone app that will help teenagers locate free clinics that can answer questions about sex, prescribe birth control, test for sexually transmitted diseases or even provide an abortion.
The Teens in NYC — Protection mobile app was quietly made available in early spring before getting a more public rollout Wednesday at a health care center in the Bronx. It is expressly intended to let teenagers get information about reproductive health services confidentially, without having to go through an adult.
"Teens in NYC have the right to sexual health services without getting permission from parents, girlfriends/boyfriends or anyone else," the application says on its welcome screen.
The idea that the city might help children get access to contraception or locate an abortion provider is likely to dismay some parents, but the city's health commissioner, Dr. Thomas Farley, said that based on the past public reaction to similar programs, he didn't expect a backlash.
"Most parents are overwhelmingly supportive," he said.
Available on Apple and Google Android devices, the app also features sex education videos, including one about a girl who is confused about her sexual orientation. Users can also use it to locate places to get free condoms, a pregnancy test or counseling.
"We used to provide some basic information in a tiny pamphlet. But these days, the language of kids is the mobile phone," Farley said.
He credited a 30 percent decline in the teen pregnancy rate in New York City partly to parents and schools being more open to discussing the risks of unprotected sex and how to best prevent unwanted pregnancies.
"The idea that we are going to shield kids from that information is long since history," Farley said.
The city's fight against teen pregnancy has also included distributing millions of free condoms and making Plan B emergency birth control available to students in some high school health clinics.
The campaign has been praised by many women's groups and public health advocates, but drawn criticism from religious figures including Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan.
"They are circumventing our rights as parents," said Mona Davids, founder of a small group called the New York City Parents Union, when asked Wednesday for her reaction to the new app.
Still, fewer than 2 percent of school system parents chose to exclude their children from the emergency birth control program when the city began offering it in 2011 — a statistic that officials say shows general acceptance.
City officials say their efforts are working: Nearly 1 in 10 New York City girls between the ages of 15 to 19 had a pregnancy in 2001. By 2011, that rate had dropped to a little less than 1 in 15, the city said. That still translated into 17,000 pregnancies among teenagers, the city said. About 87 percent of those pregnancies were unplanned, and the majority ended in an abortion.