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Laura Stepp Headshot

N.C. Bill Will Discourage Sexually Active Teens From Using Birth Control

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"Too good to check." That's the phrase I and my colleagues at the Charlotte Observer in North Carolina would use jokingly years ago to describe a story for the next day's newspaper that was bizarre, outrageous or both. We were never at a loss to find such items, particularly among the bills prepared by lawmakers in the Tar Heel state.

God bless 'em, they've done it again. On Tuesday, the Republican-controlled Health and Human Services Committee approved a bill requiring minors to obtain notarized permission from a parent or guardian in order to acquire birth control and be tested and treated for a pregnancy, an STD, substance abuse or emotional disturbance. GOP Rep. Chris Whitmire, who pushed the bill through committee, said his bill would force recalcitrant parents to become more involved in their kids' sexual and social lives. The bill now goes to the Republican-controlled House and Senate.

I'm all for parents knowing, or trying hard to know, what's going on with their children, including their teenage children. But there are ways to do that that don't raise the odds that a sexually active daughter will forego birth control. Keeping in touch with other parents, teachers and counselors is one of those.

There is no reliable data showing that requiring parental consent prevents teens from getting pregnant. And no state has ever mandated the second step of requiring notarization, which would further spook the teen. In fact, if the legislation passes, teens who picked up a pack of birth control pills monthly would need to provide notarized parental permission each month.

Currently, a young person in North Carolina can see a doctor - without a parent's consent - for the diagnosis, prevention, or treatment of pregnancy as well as for STDs, mental health issues, or substance abuse. (The law excludes abortion, sterilization, and admission to a 24-hour facility.) This law has been around since the 1970s, and is present in all states in one form or another. It has helped bring down teen pregnancy rates. Those rates are at historic lows in North Carolina, and down nearly 60 percent for the past two decades. Why the rush to tamper with such off-the-charts success?

If the proposed bill passes, one likely scenario is that sexually active girls will not use contraception because they're not willing to tell their parents they are sexually active. In fact, teens say the major reason they don't use birth control is because they're afraid their parents will find out, according to a survey commissioned by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

I have other concerns:
• Say a doctor sees a young female patient and thinks she may be depressed. Could he ask questions to confirm his suspicions, or does he have to wait to obtain a notarized signature?
• What if a girl goes to a clinic to get a test for the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause genital warts and certain cancers? Would she need the signature of Mom or Dad? Currently, no state requires such permission, even for emergency contraception.
• Could a girl or guy buy condoms without a notarized signature?

The bill does include a judicial bypass, which means a teen who didn't want to consult with her parents could see a judge, argue her case and if successful, see a doctor. Do you know any 14- or 15-year old who would do that? I don't.