This is a big week for Reproductive Health in our state. With crossover a little over a week away, the extremests in the General Assembly decided to move another anti-abortion bill to committee.
Today, the House Committee on Health and Human Services is considering HB 693, a bill that would require that teens under 18 require obtain written consent from a parent or guardian before seeking health care services for the “prevention, diagnosis, or treatment” of: STIs/STDs; substance abuse; mental health counsel; and pregnancy. This means that teenagers will need to get the written consent of a parent before even talking with their doctor about how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases or pregnancy. Later today, the House will likely vote on HB716. In spite of strong opposition to that bill, the extreme anti-woman majority, led by Rep. Ruth Samuelson, has been working overtime to make sure it passes.
HB 716 has gotten a lot of press over the past couple of weeks, but you may not know much about HB 693. While HB 716 is couched in a purported concern for gender discrimination, HB 693 makes no claims to be about anything other than what it is: a bill designed to prevent teenagers from having independent access to health care.
HB 693 prevents teens from seeking services for not merely “treatment,” but diagnosis and prevention. Written parental consent is already required for teenagers seeking abortion care in our state (that legislation was enacted in 1995). This bill amends that older law to require teens have parental consent not only for abortion care services, but for seeking out information about how to prevent STIs and STDs, as well as information about substance abuse, emotional disturbance, and pregnancy. In order to have access to information about any of these potential health issues, a teenager must provide written consent from a parent or guardian.
We can all agree that in the best possible scenario, teenagers would want to involve their parents in their health care treatment. But the reality is, many teenagers do not feel comfortable talking to their parents about the kind of issues that this bill names. Even in the best parent-child relationships, it’s hard for families to communicate about sex. In families where relationships between parents and teenagers are affected by difficult issues like abuse or mental illness, communication about sex may be impossible. But the difficulty of these conversations will not prevent teenagers from engaging in sexual activity or substance abuse. This bill would merely make it less likely for teens to seek information about how to prevent pregnancy and STI/STD transmission.
In a recent poll, APPCNC (The Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina) found that 77% of parents agreed with the statement: “I want my teen to abstain from sex, but I also think he or she needs information on birth control.” North Carolina parents agree that teenagers deserve the right to information about their health. They deserve the right to make informed decisions. Public Health professionals agree, that’s why the American Public Health Association, the Society for Adolescent Medicine, the American Medical Women’s Association, the American College of Physicians, and the American Psychological Association all oppose parental involvement laws like HB 693.
The U.S. continues to have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world. Among American teenagers, rates of Gonorrea and Chlamydia are much higher than in other western countries. The Guttmacher Institute has done a lot of research on parental involvement laws, and has found that
Proponents of laws and policies designed to require parents to be involved in their adolescent’s decisions to seek reproductive health care argue that in addition to restoring “parental rights,” such requirements will further parent-child communication while dissuading minors from engaging in sexual activity; however, research spanning almost three decades fails to confirm these claims. There is no research that supports the notion that mandatory parental involvement requirements for either contraceptive services or abortion improve parent-child communication or facilitate conversations about sex, birth control or related matters. To the contrary, the research suggests that these policies are potentially harmful to teenagers’ health and well-being, and highlights the importance of confidentiality to teenagers’ willingness to seek care.
HB 693 would seriously damage the health of the teenagers living in our state. Parental involvement bills will not prevent teens from engaging in sexual activity or substance abuse.
We know that when teenagers have access to information about their health care, they make better choices. Why should North Carolina teens have fewer rights than teens in other states?
We hope you agree that this bill should never make it to the House floor for a vote. And if so, we hope you’ll tell the Governor.