With the start of the 109th Congress, young girls’ freedom may soon become the next victims of conservative legislation. Proposed legislation expected to surface in Congress this session threatens a minor’s right to access birth control ranging from “the pill” to emergency contraceptives. This proposal is not only a strong violation of the right to reproductive freedom but also has recently been shown by the Alan Guttmacher Institute to be an ineffective way to curb teen sex and pregnancy rates, and should not be made law.
Currently, Utah, Texas and one Illinois county have laws that prohibit state funding for clinics that do not require written parental consent before giving minors contraception, and three other states considered similar laws last year. In 2003, a bill similar to those in the state houses which would have required any clinic receiving federal family-planning funds to notify parents before providing contraceptive drugs or devices to their daughters was introduced in Congress and voted on by 93 House members. Had it been enacted, clinics ignoring the law could have lost all federal funding and their employees could have faced jail time. Thankfully, the bill died in committee, as previous ones had. Despite the repeated rejection of the proposed legislation, Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.) plans to reintroduce it this session. With an increased number of conservatives in Congress after November’s election, the proposal has the chance of becoming the law nationwide.
After the legislation was introduced in Congress in 2003, research began on the effectiveness of such laws. The Alan Guttmacher Institute, an advocacy group that supports reproductive choice, recently released its findings based on information collected from over 1,500 girls under the age of 18 who were seeking services at family-planning sites. Their findings, which were published in last week’s edition of the Journal of the AMA, are likely to intensify the already heated debate in Congress about the need for contraception in the nation with the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world.
What is most worrisome from the findings is that nearly one in five surveyed said that if the law were enacted, they would avoid birth control or would use the rhythm or withdrawal methods during sex, which are far less reliable than contraceptives. It is clear that this legislation will not deter the bulk of teen sexual activity; only seven percent surveyed said they would stop having sex if the law were enacted. The lead author of the study commented on these statistics saying, “Requiring teens to tell their parents that they’re using birth control is just encouraging teens to have unsafe sex.”
Despite denials by conservatives, the recent data clearly show that laws requiring parents to be notified when their children seek birth control would do little to curb underage sex and could cause a troubling number of girls to engage in unsafe intercourse. To back up these claims, a study conducted a few years ago in McHenry county in Illinois after a similar law was enacted there showed that the birth rate among teens under age 18 in the county increased, even as it decreased in nearby counties with similar demographic profiles.
Intuitively, a teenage girl should have the right to access contraception so that she does not have to resort to measures such as back-alley abortions to deal with an unwanted pregnancy. The proposed legislation would be ineffective and is only another attempt by conservative lawmakers to suppress reproductive rights and force their view of morality on others.