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Minn. Senate Republicans seek to roll back minors’ access to health care without parental consent

Senate Republicans have included a provision in a health and human services omnibus bill that would repeal Minnesota’s minors’ consent laws. Those laws, first enacted in 1971, allow Minnesotans under the age of 18 to access mental and physical health care, as well as substance use care. The bill would strip those laws from the books and only allow a minor to seek those services in the case of incest. The Minnesota Department of Health, the Mayo Clinic, the American Academy of Pediatrics and teen pregnancy prevention groups all testified in opposition.

The debate over minors’ consent has typically been over abortion. Anti-abortion rights groups have been attacking such laws through legislation and lawsuits over much of the past decade. Minnesota’s neighboring states allow minors’ consent for testing for sexually transmitted diseases, but not for birth control. If the proposed bill became law, it would be one of the most restrictive in the country.

The bill was supported by the Minnesota Family Council, whose president, Tom Prichard, testified at Friday morning’s Senate judiciary committee meeting. He blamed the law for a rise in sexually transmitted infections, depression and drug use.

“Kids aren’t happier,” he said. “We believe that isolating minors from the parents isn’t making things better. These are enormous life-changing issues.”

But it was physicians who noted that the law serves to protect adolescents.

Dr. Ann Edwards, a pediatrician speaking on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said that minors’ consent removes potential barriers to medical care.

She told the story of a teen whose stepfather had been raping her and had concerns that that teen would have trouble seeking resources without her parents knowing.

“All our children deserve the very best,” she said. “I must urge you not to pass Senate file 1017.

Dr. Patricia Simmons, on behalf of the Mayo Clinic, agreed. “We don’t want to do anything that discourages adolescents from getting help.”

Simmons said that health care workers have an obligation to encourage teens to involve their parents in medical matters. In every instance she knew of in her practice teens have heeded that advice and brought their parents into the discussion, she said.

Brigid Riley of the Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting said the law has been an important tool for the state. “The statute has helped Minnesota achieve the lowest teen pregnancy rate on record, and it’s been an important tool for medical providers for four decades now.”

She added, “The statute allows a health care provider to provide care confidentially, but it doesn’t require them to.”

However, Republican Sen. David Hann, (R-Eden Prairie), the bill’s author, said when his teen child was going through a rough time, he was not allowed access to his child’s records.

“What this really is about is that there should be a presumption that parents make decisions for their minor child,” he said.

DFL Sen. Barb Goodwin of Columbia Heights, who has worked in childrens’ mental health services, said repealing the law could have dangerous consequences. “If we are going to pass anything that is going to create an issue where even one child’s life is gone because they wouldn’t get the help they needed, I think that’s wrong.”

The bill passed the committee along party lines on Friday. A version of the bill has been included in the Health and Human Services omnibus bill.

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