Birth Control New Target of Parental Notification Legislation

By Jessica Cantelon | July 7, 2008 | 8:04 PM EDT

( - There is a new battle underway involving parental notification laws. But as Congress and ten states examine legislation that would require minors to notify their parents before obtaining contraceptives, 11 other states have already quit enforcing similar laws dealing with abortion.

"Now you're asking for parental notice for contraception and some states are saying, 'Gee, if we can't get it for abortion, how are we going to get it for contraception?'" commented Ed Szymkowiak, the national director of Stop Planned Parenthood International (STOPP), a division of the American Life League.

There is no current state or federal law requiring parental notification for the dispersal of contraceptives.

Szymkowiak criticized Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. for opposing parental notification of any kind in sexual health services, and for being more worried about "money out of their pockets" than the well being and "confidentiality" of young women.

But Planned Parenthood insists communication between family members cannot be mandated. "Professionals, lawmakers, and caregivers who care about young people will not put their health and well being at risk with misguided parental notification laws," the organization's website states.

Abortion and Parental Involvement

According to a current tally of "Restrictions on Young Women;s Access to Abortion Services," published by the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (CRLP), 11 out of 43 states with laws requiring parental consent or notification of abortion do not currently enforce them.

"Some state courts have enjoined laws whose restrictions they say violate their states' constitutions, while at the same time, similar or even more restrictive laws remain in effect in other states," according to a brief published by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research affiliate of Planned Parenthood.

According to Jody Ratner from the National Association for Public Interest Law (NAPIL), the parental notification laws were frozen in all but one of the 11 states as a result of successful challenges filed in either state or federal courts. The exception is New Mexico, where the attorney general issued an opinion stating the law was unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable.

In five states, federal court cases found "specific problems with the law as written," Ratner said. The problems mostly stemmed from the failure to include a medical emergency stipulation or a judicial bypass clause, the latter of which would allow adolescents to get a judge's permission for an abortion without having to notify a parent.

Five state courts, Ratner said, found parental involvement in abortion laws unconstitutional under their state constitutions, ruling that they "violated either privacy rights or the equal protection rights of young women."

The Fight Over Contraception

Planned Parenthood has already launched an offensive against the parental notification legislation dealing with contraceptives that's been introduced in Congress and in the states of Florida, Alaska, Georgia, Kentucky, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, South Carolina, Wisconsin and Texas.

A Planned Parenthood-funded study on the projected "Effects of Mandatory Parental Notification on Adolescent Girls' Use of Sexual Health Services," was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). It consists of a 1999 survey of 950 sexually active girls under the age of 18 visiting Planned Parenthood centers throughout Wisconsin.

Fifty-nine percent reported that if parental notification became mandatory, they would "stop all sexual health care services, delay testing or treatment of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections, or discontinue use of sexual health care services."

"The study demonstrates that the government should not erect barriers to teens who are trying to act responsibly and seek information and important medical care, and forcing teens to get parental consent for family planning won't stop them from having sex," Lisa Boyce, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin's vice president of public affairs, said.

Back in May, U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) introduced the "State's and Parental Rights Improvement Act of 2002," which would allow states "to require parental consent or notification for purpose of purchase of prescription drugs or devices for minors under federal health care grant-in-aid programs."

"Basically what our bill does [is] it allows states to require parental notification of any prescription drug and it just says by doing that it won't violate federal law," explained Matt Lloyd, Brady's press secretary.

As the situation is now, states seeking to require a parent's notification before contraceptives can be issued, face the loss of federal funding under Title X of the Public Health Service Act, which guarantees confidentiality in reproductive health care.

Although the bill's broad focus on prescription drugs never mentions contraception, said Lloyd, contraceptives are the focus of the bill and the debate.

Szymkowiak told that Brady's proposal "may be the best we can get at this time," but a better way, he said, would be to change Title X to require parental notice for contraception.

"The problem with going that route [Brady's] is you're not hitting all the states at the same time and you have this potential for challenge within the courts."

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