This week, the House State Affairs Committee heard testimony on a bill that would allow teenagers who have already had a child to get birth control without their parents’ permission. Under current law, all minors under the age of 18 must get parental consent before receiving contraception from their doctors.
House Bill 468, filed by state Rep. Mary Gonzalez (D-Clint), would apply to teenage mothers ages 15 to 17.
“Teen mothers can consent to the medical treatment of their own children, but cannot consent to their own access to contraception,” Gonzalez told committee members on Wednesday. “If we trust teen mothers with the care of their own children, we must trust them to make their own decisions for their own reproductive health.”
Texas consistently ranks among the top three states for highest teen pregnancy rates, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. The Lone Star State teeters between first and second in highest repeat teen births, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Approximately 21 percent of babies in Texas born to teen moms in 2013 were repeat births, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. That translates to more than 8,200 births, said Anna Chatillon, a policy coordinator with the Healthy Futures Alliance of Texas, which works to reduce teen pregnancy and unplanned pregnancy.
“Right now we’re withholding the ability for teen mothers to make one of the best and sometimes one of the simplest health care decisions for themselves, and that’s waiting to have additional children until they’re older and ready for them,” she said.
Greg Guggenmos with the Texas Home School Coalition testified against the bill, arguing that giving teenage mothers the ability to decide for themselves if they want contraception compromises a parent’s right to “direct the control, care and upbringing of their children.”
Not every teen has the luxury of a parent who can comfortably talk about sex and birth control. Often, as several witnesses pointed out, teens don’t feel comfortable talking about sexual health with their parents, or they fear disappointing them. Sometimes, parents aren’t around talk to in the first place. Or, they’re uninterested.
“I wish the world were so neat that it was always safe for teens and they had a parent around who they can trust and talk to, but it’s just not like that,” said Susan Hays, a family lawyer who for 15 years has represented teenage girls seeking abortions without parental consent in bypass cases.
Some Texas public schools’ strict adherence to abstinence-only sex education, along with requiring minors get their parents’ permission for birth control, make it tough for teenage girls to make their own health care decisions, Hays said.
“We set teenage girls up to fail in terms of their access to medically and scientifically accurate sex ed and their access to birth control,” she said.
But Cecilia Wood, a family lawyer based in Austin, questioned whether teenage mothers are mature enough to decide whether they need birth control.
“I think if you’ve had one child, and you’re already putting yourself back in that situation, if you’re not mature enough to go to your parents and say, ‘Hey we need to talk about this,’ or go to a grandparent or an older sibling, or find someone who can engage your parents, you’re probably not mature enough to be making this decision in a vacuum for yourself,” Wood told the committee.
Norma Leal, a social work student, gave birth to her son when she was 16. She told the committee that she was lucky to have a supportive family that allowed her and her boyfriend to live in their home to raise the baby. Still, after she delivered, she said her mother didn’t talk to her about her future sexual health.
“I was told to come back with my mom” when she asked her doctor about contraception, she told the committee, adding that she and her mom went back a few weeks later and Leal got the birth control she wanted. “There were several weeks in between in which I could’ve had a second, and unplanned, pregnancy,” she said.
The committee left Gonzalez’s bill pending.