Mandatory Parental Notification Likely to Impede Teen Girls’ Use of Reproductive Health Services, JAMA Study Says
Nearly 60% of sexually active girls under age 18 would discontinue at least some reproductive health services if their parents were informed that they were seeking contraceptive services, according to a study published in today's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the New York Times reports (Flaherty, New York Times, 8/14). Dianne Reddy of the psychology department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and colleagues surveyed 950 single girls under age 18 who sought services at any of Wisconsin's 33 Planned Parenthood family planning clinics during the spring of 1999. In an anonymous written questionnaire, girls attending the clinics were first asked to indicate whether they would be willing to use various confidential services offered by Planned Parenthood, including birth control, HIV or other STD testing and counseling and pregnancy testing and counseling. Respondents were then asked to indicate which specific services they would no longer use because of mandatory parental notification laws. Approximately 47% of the respondents indicated that they would stop using all sexual health care services if parental notification were required, and an additional 12% reported that they would stop using certain services if such a requirement were enacted.
Risks of Notification Outweigh Parental Concerns
If parental notification would cause the majority of minor girls to stop seeking reproductive health services or to use less effective methods of contraception, the rates of teen pregnancies and STD infections would "substantial[ly]" increase, Dr. Carol Ford of the Adolescent Medicine Program at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Abigail English of the Center for Adolescent Health & the Law state in an accompanying JAMA editorial. Although there is "widespread consensus that communication between adolescents and their parents about sexual decision-making is important," there is "no reason" that confidential reproductive health care and efforts to improve communication between parents and their adolescent children cannot occur simultaneously, they write. Confidentiality allows adolescents to "seek care that is essential to protect their health," and limiting such access will result in "preventable negative outcomes" that "endange[r]" the health of adolescents, Ford and English state. The authors conclude, "This outcome is not in the best interest of adolescents, their parents, or professionals dedicated to preserving the health and well-being of this age group" (Ford/English, JAMA, 8/14).
Although no states currently require federally funded clinics to inform parents that their children are seeking contraceptives, lawmakers have introduced such measures in 15 state legislatures since 1998, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute (New York Times, 8/14). Rep. Don Manzullo (R-Ill.), who supports such legislation, said that parents "have the right to protect their children's health" and that parental involvement is "important to healthy teen behavior" (Wetzstein, Washington Times, 8/14). Reddy said that she and her fellow researchers "strongly support" parental involvement, but she stated that mandatory parental notification "won't force girls to talk to their parents." She added, "We have confidential services and we need to keep it that way" (Griffin, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/13).
NPR's "Morning Edition" today reported on the study and the status of parental notification laws. The report is available in RealPlayer Audio online.