Ensures Confidential Health Care for Teens
The U.S. District Court of the District of Kansas today granted a preliminary injunction against enforcement of a law that threatens the confidentiality of teenagers seeking health care services. The injunction ensures that Kansas adolescents can still receive confidential care until the court reaches a final decision in the case.
Last year, Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline issued a new interpretation of the state’s child- abuse reporting law, requiring that doctors, school counselors and psychotherapists, among others, report sexual activity involving a teen younger than 16 as evidence of child abuse. The law is so broad it would even require a psychologist to report a teen who disclosed that she was “making out” with her boyfriend.
The Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit challenging the attorney general’s opinion on behalf of a group of health-care providers and counseling professionals. The plaintiffs argue that the attorney general’s interpretation violates adolescents’ right to privacy and deters adolescents from seeking confidential health care or counseling.
U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten said that the interpretation was “a monumental change in policy.” The judge also ruled that “a limited breach of confidentiality concerning such unique and intimate information could have large implications for the well-being of minors.”
Studies show that any threat to confidentiality-let alone reporting sexually active adolescents to the state-is a strong deterrent against adolescents seeking reproductive health care, particularly contraceptive services and information on prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (2002) found that nearly 47% of sexually active teenage girls would stop seeking all reproductive health services if their parents knew they were trying to obtain contraceptives. But the majority of the teens said they would continue to be sexually active.
“The court’s injunction will allow teenagers to get the medical care they need,” said Bonnie Scott Jones, an attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Reporting all teen sexual activity violates adolescents’ privacy rights. This “kiss and tell” law does nothing to address real abuse of children.”
The Kansas law is part of a trend by the anti-choice movement to use child-abuse reporting laws to scare adolescents away from reproductive health care.
Plaintiffs in Aid for Women v. Foulston include obstetricians and gynecologists, registered nurses, psychologists, 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.
Read more about the Center’s work to defend the reproductive freedom of young women.