The Womxn Project is a statewide organization focused on leveraging the power of art, activism, advocacy and education to advance the principles of reproductive justice, which demands that we all have the right to determine when and how we build our relationships, families and futures and that we have the ability to live and raise our children with dignity.
We are proud to submit testimony in STRONG opposition to H7138, a bill that purports to be about the rights of parents. We have seen these kinds of bills before. They are not about healthy, strong families or even supporting parents. They are about deny young people the ability to make informed decisions about their health and futures. They are about interfering with attempts to advance or enhance sexuality education in schools. They are about putting up barriers to information, services and support for young people to be able to shape their own future with the support – not interference or limitations of the trusted adults in their lives.
This bill could negatively impact many important areas, including infringing on the ability of young people to access critical health services to manage and protect their health. Currently, our state law affirms that any person over 16 may consent to routine, emergency, medical or surgical care. A minor parent may also consent to treatment of his or her child. Rhode Island State Law allows young people to consent to STD and HIV testing and care confidentially. The patchwork is concerning as it does not provide access to the full range of care folks need to manage and protect their health. There is work to be done, but the fact is that H7138 could make it much worse. While the bill tries to skirt this issue, we have seen what this type of policy can do.
We need to address that some people may be uncomfortable with the idea of a young person seeking care without their parent or guardian. We can understand that is something people are curious about, but study after study has shown that most young people do involve a parent when they are making decisions about health care and other important life decisions, but for those who feel they cannot, we have to put their health needs first. There are homeless youth who do not have contact with their parents and are simply unable to obtain consent for treatment. There are youth whose parents do not condone mental health services and would refuse to give consent if asked. There are also young people who may be ashamed to need treatment for mental health or addiction or do not want to worry or disappoint their parents.
A nationally representative study of foregone health care in adolescents found that 14 percent of youth did not get the care they needed out of concerns about confidentiality. These youth were at increased risk for real health problems because they failed to get needed health care. Studies also found that young people who had no opportunity to talk one on one with their provider with the promise of confidentiality were less likely to bring up sensitive concerns or to admit to issues with substance abuse or concerns around mental health, unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases – all of which left unattended can result in serious impacts on their health and wellbeing.
Historically, women of color have faced significant barriers in accessing health services. This is true for young women of color as well, which is a huge factor in a higher rate of unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). For many young Latinas and Black women, they are struggling with cultural taboos around sex and sexuality. It is imperative that we ensure health professionals are a resource for credible information and support.
We also know that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth can be especially concerned about confidentiality in health care settings. They need to be able to talk to health professionals about their questions and concerns. Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide as their straight peers and nearly half of young transgender people have seriously thought about taking their lives. We also know that given the stigma that many young LGBT people face, they also have a higher rate of substance abuse. By denying accessing to confidential health care services, we are putting the lives of young people at risk.
When it comes to policies that have an impact on access to and provision of health care, we should rely on the best practices and guidance of health professionals. A survey of pediatricians found that 75% favored confidential treatment for adolescents. In fact, major medical organizations agree on the importance of providing adolescents with access to confidential health services including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Oher major medical groups also oppose forcing parental involvement, including the American Public Health Association, the Society for Adolescent Medicine, the American Medical Women’s Association, the American College of Physicians and American Psychological Association.
These groups oppose legislation like H7138 because policies that serve to expand or entrench the idea of forcing young people to seek consent from their parents does not actually help to promote family communication or make sure that young people have support. Instead, it increases the risk of harm to young people in our state by delaying access to appropriate medical care.
We can absolutely do more to help families build strong communications or advance programs that provide parents and families with the skills to have conversations that build trust. That is not what this bill does – and let’s be clear that this bill is not about parental rights. It is about taking rights and decisions away from young people. That doesn’t help anyone and can cause very real harm. We urge you to oppose this legislation. Very similar bills have been pushed all over the country and it is beyond clear that there is a political agenda behind this legislation that has nothing to do with helping families. Please, vote no on this misguided bill. Thank you.
Contact: Emma Gauthier, [email protected], 508-648-8180