Associated Press, February 7, 2005

Bill requires parental consent for teen birth control

Author : Sheila Byrd

DATELINE: JACKSON, Miss.

A practice of some teenage girls - getting birth control from neighborhood health clinics without their parents' consent - would end under a bill pending in the Mississippi Senate.

Public Health and Welfare Chairman Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, said he's filed the bill for about eight years without the legislation ever getting out of committee. Nunnelee's chairmanship guarantees that the bill will at least get a Senate vote this year.

The legislation has drawn criticism from some groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which describes the bill as another attack on women's reproductive rights.

The bill prohibits state Department of Health employees from performing any surgical or medical treatment or prescribing any medication for a teenager 15 or under without parental consent.

Among the exceptions are rape, treatment for venereal disease or if the minor is married.

Under current law, any female, regardless of age or marital status, has the right to consent to medical treatment related to pregnancy and childbirth.

"We definitely see it as a violation of women's health rights here. It may not be a legal violation. It's certainly not making it easy for women to take control of their own health issues," said Mississippi ACLU Executive Director Nsombi Lambright.

Nunnelee said he decided to file the bill after getting a telephone call from a mother, who recounted a tale about her daughter. The teen was ill, but no one had been able to diagnose the problem. Eventually, the teen asked her mother if it was possible shots she had gotten from the health clinic could make her sick.

"Her mother said 'What shots?' Nunnelee said.

He said the mother didn't know the girl had been getting Depo-Provera injections. The injections are a form of birth control with side effects that include abdominal pain and nausea.

"When they are injecting chemicals into little girls' bodies, it could have very serious side effects and I think it crosses the line," Nunnelee said.

The types of birth control administered by the Department of Health include education about abstinence, birth control pills, Depo-Provera, contraceptive patches, intrauterine devices, diaphragms, spermicide, condoms and fertility awareness, said agency spokeswoman Liz Sharlot.

The number of teens giving birth in Mississippi in 1998 was 8,598. In 2002, the most recent year available, the number was 7,152.

Nunnelee's proposal is unusual, said Jennifer Dalven, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project based in New York.

"The reason it's so unusual is that all the major medical groups have realized that requiring parental consent for contraceptive doesn't stop teenagers from having sex," Dalven said.

Autumn Pennington, health center manager for Planned Parenthood in Hattiesburg, agreed, saying the change likely would lead to an increase in teen pregnancies.

"It's sad and ridiculous that they would try to make a law like this," Pennington said. "It's only going to make the problem worse."

Open since August, Pennington's center is the only Planned Parenthood office in the state. Teens 14 and older can receive birth control at the center without consent. Most of the center's clients are college students. About 20 percent are 18 and under, Pennington said.

The center provides birth control without a physical exam, emergency contraceptive, pregnancy testing and outreach services, such as seminars on pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, she said.

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The bill is Senate Bill 2106.

<< Associated Press -- 2/7/05 >>


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