By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Minors seeking The Pill and other birth control at federally funded clinics could only do so with their parents' consent under a proposal before Congress by U.S. Rep. Ken Lucas, a Boone County Democrat.
The Parents Right to Know Act of 2003 would require clinics receiving federal Title X money for birth control to notify parents at least five business days before any contraceptive drugs or devices are prescribed to a minor.
"All parents have the right to know if their child is receiving contraceptive drugs, especially if the federal government is subsidizing them," Lucas said. He and Congressman Todd Akin, a Missouri Republican, are co-sponsoring the legislation.
Last fall, the Northern Kentucky public health board backed similar legislation that was defeated in Congress.
Just months earlier, some board members tried to make their agency the first in the nation to reject federal Title X dollars for family planning services on the basis that birth control pills can cause abortions. That was defeated 14-13, with then-board chairman Greg Kennedy casting the tie-breaking vote.
"Last Aug. 28 we sent a letter to Congressman Lucas asking him to pursue (parental consent legislation)," said Dr. Charlie Kenner, a Florence dentist who is chairman of the Northern Kentucky Independent District Health Board. "I guess this is the way he has responded. We're very pleased."
Kenner said society sends contradictory messages to teens when it comes to getting parental permission on health issues. "Students in upper middle school have to go to the office to get a Tylenol," he said. "You have to be 18 to get your ears pierced without parental permission. Yet teenagers can go to a local clinic and get powerful hormones."
Anyone under 18 seeking birth control at federally funded clinics would have to get written permission from a parent or legal guardian, according to the legislative proposal introduced this week. Exceptions could be granted if the minor is emancipated, or a court has directed the minor receive the birth control.
Lucas said that birth control drugs can carry serious health risks. For example, he said contraceptives such as DepoProvera can kill teenagers with heart conditions.
Spokeswomen for the Northern Kentucky public health department and Planned Parenthood of Cincinnati said that teenagers served by their clinics had not experienced any serious side effects from Depo or other birth control.
In 2002, 16 percent of the patients receiving federally funded family planning services at Northern Kentucky's public health clinics were under 18, said Peggy Patterson, spokeswoman for the health department.
Cincinnati's Planned Parenthood program provided birth control to 1,841 people under age 18 last year, or about 9 percent of its clients, said Sue Momeyer, CEO for the Planned Parenthood Cincinnati region. "There are a number of areas, such as drug counseling, in which teens aren't required to get parental consent if not getting the treatment would be harmful," Momeyer said. "I think this proposal would be very harmful to teenagers and to society."
She cited a 1993 study in The Journal of the American Medical Association that found most high school students would not seek birth control or other care related to sexuality if they had to tell their parents. That study echoed an earlier one published in The Journal of Pediatrics.
Dr. Malcolm Adcock, Cincinnati health commissioner, said that he can sympathize with parents wanting more control over their minor children. "But I think the real control is working with your children early on to make sure they know where you stand on issues such as postponing sexual involvement."
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