New York, NY- Today, the U.S. District Court of the District of Kansas stopped the Kansas Attorney General from enforcing a legal interpretation that threatens to intrude upon teenagers' medical privacy under the pretext of protecting them from child abuse. Judge J. Thomas Marten permanently blocked enforcement of Phill Kline's legal opinion, declaring it irreparably harmful and recognizing that minors have a right to informational privacy concerning sexual activity.
"We are extremely pleased that, for the first time, a federal court has protected young people from a state's attempt to intrude in the private communications between teens and health-care providers. Any threat to that privacy will drive teens away from health-care services, endangering their well-being instead of protecting it," said Bonnie Scott Jones, lead attorney in the case and staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "States cannot be allowed to simply pull up a chair in every doctor's office in the state and listen in on teenagers seeking health services."
Kansas law requires providers of health care and counseling services to report instances of child abuse or neglect to the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS). In 2003, Kline issued an interpretation of the statute under which doctors, school counselors and psychotherapists, among others, report all suspected sexual activity involving a teen younger than 16 as evidence of child abuse. Kline's opinion was so broad that it would require a therapist to report a 15-year-old teen who disclosed that she was "making out" with her 15-year-old boyfriend.
The Center for Reproductive Rights filed suit in 2003 challenging the attorney general's interpretation on behalf of a group of providers of health care and counseling services.
The judge recognized that, "Automatic mandatory reporting of illegal sexual activity involving a minor will change the nature of the relationship between a health care provider and the minor patient to some degree," and that studies establish that the kiss and tell policy would cause "a significant decrease in minors seeking care and treatment related to sexual activity."
The American Medical Association and numerous other major medical groups, including the American Society for Adolescent Psychiatry and American Psychiatric Association, oppose Kline's policy because it would deter teenagers from seeking health care and counseling, including contraceptive services and information on prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. These medical organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting the plaintiff's case.
The Kansas Attorney General's policy is part of a larger trend by the anti-choice movement to limit adolescents' privacy in and access to reproductive health care.
Plaintiffs in Aid for Women v. Foulston include obstetricians and gynecologists, a registered nurse, a psychologist, social workers, a family practice physician, a sex education teacher, and a perinatologist. They are represented by Bonnie Scott Jones and Simon Heller from the Center for Reproductive Rights and Laura B. Shaneyfelt from Hulnick Law Offices, P.A.