A recent bill approved in the North Carolina General Assembly may add an obstacle for teens hoping to acquire a number of basic services such as pregnancy care, mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment, and STD testing and treatment.
Despite the sensitive nature of the topics, a Republican-controlled committee in the Tar Heel State is attempting to add another step in the process before such services are provided – a parental consent form.
By including mom and dad in the conversation, supporters of the bill argue it ensures parents are made aware of their child’s risqué behavior, thus allowing them to treat and address the problematic behaviors down the road.
"This bill addresses situations that often time reflect behaviors that led to it in many ways," said the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Chris Whitmire (R-Transylvania).
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Rep. Marilyn Avila (R-Wake) said she thinks the current law - which has been in place since 1977 - has contributed to the overall deterioration of families.
"I just think it's an insidious sort of thing when you look at the directions our kids have taken," she said. "Maybe we've created those problems."
However, opponents of the bill – and there are many – emphasize such a law would discourage teens from getting the help they need.
Chief among these critics are doctors and health advocates, many of whom testified against the bill during a committee hearing on Tuesday.
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"Here's the bottom line: Everybody wants teenagers to talk to their parents, but public policy is not based on ideal families," said Paige Johnson, vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina. "What if there's something happening in the home, some kind of abuse going on? If teenagers can't talk to their parents for whatever reason about their pregnancy or their STD or their substance abuse, they need to be able to access professional care."
Although North Carolina currently requires parental consent for teenagers seeking abortions, the current bill would be the first in the U.S. to encompass parental consent for STD testing and treatment, mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment.
Teenagers without a parent or guardian would be forced to stand before a judge and request a judicial bypass in order to obtain such services. Only teenagers with medical emergencies would be exempt from acquiring parental consent.
The bill, which recently advanced through the Health and Human Services Committee by a 14-8 vote, now moves to a full vote in the House.