Minn. GOP: Let parents know when kids seek care

By TARA BANNOW, Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - A GOP proposal in Minnesota would require parental consent before minors could seek treatment for pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases or drug and alcohol abuse, undoing a 40-year-old law that lets minors see doctors without letting a parent know.

Such a change would set Minnesota apart from most other states, according to one group that tracks sexual and reproductive health issues. And opponents warn the measure could prevent some young people from seeking care because they're embarrassed or afraid to talk to their parents about their situation.

Minnesota's current law prevents doctors from disclosing medical information to parents unless the patient agrees or the health issue poses immediate harm. The new proposal also would give parents access to their children's medical records.

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"It seems if you talk to any parent, most would assume they have the right to know about the medical condition of their child," said Sen. David Hann, a Republican from Eden Prairie who sponsored the bill. "I think it's a surprise to find out that we don't."

Hann's proposal would make Minnesota the only state to block minors from getting STD services without parental approval, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which follows sexual and reproductive health issues and opposes parental notification requirements.

No state currently blocks minors from obtaining contraceptives without parental consent, although some set certain conditions such as minimum age, according to Guttmacher.

The institute said when it comes to confidential prenatal care, 37 states plus the District of Columbia allow minor-only consent or place only slight conditions on it. Thirteen states have no relevant law.

Minnesota's proposal would allow exceptions if the minors' condition is life-threatening. Some health care professionals still fear some young people would skip care or wait too long to seek treatments.

The results could include higher rates of STD infection and unintended pregnancies, unchecked drug and alcohol abuse, premature births or other complications and long-term health problems from untreated conditions, said Aggie Leitheiser, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Health. Each of those would drive up health care costs, Leitheiser noted.

The legislation has been approved by a Senate committee and Hann said he's confident it will pass in the Republican-controlled Legislature. That's looking less likely by the day, however, as the bill has yet to see a companion in the House.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton's spokeswoman Katherine Tinucci said Dayton won't comment on pending legislation until it passes as least one chamber.

Tom Prichard, president of the conservative Minnesota Family Council, testified during a recent committee hearing on the bill that doctors don't always encourage kids to talk to their parents. Prichard also said teens are actually more likely to seek medical help if their parents are involved.

David Aughey, medical director for adolescent medicine at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, said he encourages adolescent patients to tell their parents about their sexual health issues, but there's a variety of reasons why they don't.

He described a Catholic high school student who came in for treatment for an STD and uterine infection and only disclosed after three more visits for the same issues that her stepfather had been sexually abusing her for years.

"These kinds of stories aren't unique," Aughey said. "There are hundreds of these kinds of stories."

The bill would make an exception for incest and sexual or physical abuse victims at the hands of a parent or guardian, but they would need to get a judge's OK before seeing a doctor without parental consent.

Donna Dunn, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said taking time to go to court might make it impossible to get physical evidence proving the assault.

Republicans have introduced similar legislation in other states, such as a bill in New Jersey that would require parental consent for minors to get medical treatment relating to pregnancy, but none as comprehensive as Minnesota's, said Elizabeth Nash, public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute. Most attempts to eliminate minors' consent have focused on abortions.

In states without specific laws, doctors generally fall back on recommendations from their respective medical association, most of which support minors' right to consent, Nash said.

The American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics have policies that support minors' access to contraceptives, and U.S. Supreme Court decisions have upheld minors' consent to contraceptives and abortions.

Tim Stanley, senior director of government and public affairs for Planned Parenthood's Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota region, said the group is most concerned about the bill's language to take away minors' consent to receive contraceptives and pregnancy and STD testing.

"That's not to say the abortion piece is not important," Stanley said. "But that minors' consent piece ... that would be a dramatic, dramatic change in the way health care is delivered."

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)