ACLU Asks Appeals Court to Protect Teens’ Access to Reproductive Health Care

Affiliate: ACLU of Kansas
February 6, 2007 12:00 am

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Says Opinion Issued by Former Kansas Attorney General Intimidates Teens and Puts Their Health and Safety at Risk

DENVER – The American Civil Liberties Union today asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit to protect teens’ access to confidential reproductive health care. In a friend-of-the-court brief filed with the court, the ACLU said an opinion issued by the former Attorney General of Kansas intimidates teens from seeking medical care, and puts their health and safety at risk.

“Forcing health care providers to report all consensual sexual activity of teens has nothing to do with protecting their health and safety and everything to do with furthering a political agenda,” said Brigitte Amiri, a staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “Mandatory reporting will actually discourage teens from seeking reproductive health care.”

In June 2003, former Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline issued an opinion that radically changed state law to require health care providers who are mandatory reporters of sexual abuse to report all sexual activity of teens under 16 years of age – including consensual sexual activity between teens of the same age. The Attorney General’s interpretation of the law would have resulted in a government information bank that parents could periodically check to determine whether their son or daughter had sought reproductive health care.

A district court ruled in April 2006 that the Attorney General’s interpretation of the mandatory reporting statute violates teens’ constitutional rights, and that such reporting will force many minors to forgo reproductive health care altogether.

“The government cannot mandate good family communication,” said Brett Shirk, Executive Director of the ACLU of Kansas and Western Missouri. “State surveillance of teens’ health care decision will not transform a household with poor lines of communication into a paradigm of the perfect American family.”

Major medical groups, including the American Medical Association, have opposed this interpretation of Kansas law because it intimidates teens from seeking reproductive health care. When teenagers don’t visit family planning providers, not only do they forego contraceptive services, they also miss or dangerously postpone screening and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, routine gynecological exams, and other vital health care services. Guarantees of confidentiality are one of the prime factors influencing whether a teenager will seek vital health services.

Today’s case is Aid For Women v. Foulston. Lawyers on the friend-of-the-court brief include Amiri and Jennifer Dalven of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project.

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