SCHOOL nurses are "in shock" after learning that a government circular allowing them to distribute the morning-after contraceptive pill to secondary pupils is probably illegal.
The State Council is likely to stop them dispensing it.
The circular was issued in January by Segolene Royal, then schools minister, as part of a sex education drive aimed at reducing the number of unwanted schoolgirl pregnancies and abortions. Some 10,000 under-18-year-olds become pregnant in France each year, about 6,700 of whom choose termination. A pupil "in distress and extreme emergency", who had had unprotected sex could get a pill from the school nurse, who would also be responsible for counselling the girl and referring her to a family-planning centre.
Although the measure had the backing of the nurses and wide public support, 10 family, Catholic and anti-abortion associations lodged appeals against the circular. Now government commissioner Sophie Boissard has judged that it contravenes 1967 legislation which stipulates that hormone-based contraceptives must be prescribed by a doctor and dispensed only by pharmacies or family-planning agencies. It also conflicts with rules governingthe profession of school nurse and with parental authority over minors.
She has recommended that the State Council should annul the circular, and the council, which advises the government on administrative matters, will announce its ruling in July; usually it accepts the commissioner's decisions. If it does so in this case, the government would have to introduce legislation to re-establish the nurses' right to dispense the pill.
The National Union of School Nurses said it was shocked by Ms Boissard's decision. "Not only has our profession been reappraised, and in a contemptuous manner, but our first concerns are for the young," said a spokeswoman.
Segolene Royal, who is now minister for the family, said that "every legal problem, if there really is one, has a solution", and she would "not be apathetic in responding to the distress of young women".
Education minister Jack Lang condemned the inadequacy of the law concerning the sexuality of young people: "Nobody could deny that being under the care of an education ministry health worker, who is trained and conscious of her role, would be preferable to having to make a furtive and embarrassing purchase," he said.