Court rules teens in Texas must get parental permission for birth control

Court rules teens in Texas must get parental permission for birth control

Christopher De Los Santos

Teenagers in McLennan County and across Texas will need parental permission to get birth control from some federally funded family planning clinics, following a federal court ruling last month.

The decision is a “devastating setback for vulnerable teens seeking to prevent an unintended pregnancy,” said Autumn Keiser, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, which operates the only McLennan County program directly affected.

The decision, which is under appeal, prompted temporary statewide guidelines to require parental consent for contraception at 156 federally funded clinics, The Texas Tribune reported. The clinics are funded through a program under Title X of the US Public Health Service Act, which has provided free, confidential contraception to anyone regardless of age, income or immigration status since 1970.

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US District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk’s Dec. 20 decision in Deanda v. Becerra strikes down the confidentiality clause in the Title X program regarding parental consent for minor children. It applies to medicinal and mechanical forms of contraception.

Kacsmaryk based his ruling on the section of the Texas Family Code that gives parents the right to determine their children’s education, particularly health care, and the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution.

Title X clinics have long represented a single exception to the state’s requirement, The Texas Tribune reported.

Keizer said Planned Parenthood expects the decision to directly affect less than 1% of Waco-area patients.

“Last year 1,817 patients received health care at Planned Parenthood Waco Health Center,” Keizer said.

Statewide, about 180,000 patients, including about 9,000 younger than 18, received care at Title X clinics in fiscal year 2020, the vast majority below the poverty line and uninsured, according to The Texas Tribune.

Planned Parenthood’s Mary Ruth Duncan Health Center is the only Title X provider in McLennan County, offering services including birth control, annual wellness exams, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, as well as breast cancer screening and cervix. The access the center provides is especially important for people without health insurance, Keizer said.

“Title X-funded health care services are available today despite the new decision that teenagers seeking contraception are required to obtain parental consent even if they are parents themselves,” she said.

Clinics and health care facilities not funded by Title X, such as Waco Family Medicine, are unaffected and can continue to operate and provide all services as they did before Kacsmaryk’s decision, a Waco Family Medicine spokesman said Thursday.

In McLennan County, teen pregnancy rates exceed national averages, Keizer said.

“Texans need access to birth control, not roadblocks,” she said.

The county’s teen birth rate, defined as births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19, was 21.7 in 2021, with a total of 234 births in that age group, according to the nonprofit Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. The statewide rate was 20.3, and the statewide rate was 14.4.

In 2020, McLennan County saw 233 teenage girls give birth, including 167 births among women ages 18 or 19, 66 births among 15-17 year olds and none among girls 14 and older, according to Healthy Futures of Texas.

Officials at Waco Independent School District and Midway ISD said they offer childcare and parenting guidance to students who have children of their own in an effort to help them graduate. No district offered contraception to students before or after the Kacsmaryk trial.

While Kacsmaryk’s decision is under appeal, the statewide administrator for Title X, Every Body Texas, advised its 156 clinics to seek parental consent for minors to receive contraception “out of an abundance of caution” while the group awaits further guidance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The Texas Tribune reported.

“We hope that as the case continues, we are able to revoke this guidance and continue to provide minors in Texas with the sexual and reproductive care they need and deserve with or without parental consent,” Stephanie LeBleu, project director Title X in Every Body. Texas, told The Texas Tribune.

LeBleu told The Texas Tribune that the parental consent guidelines do not apply to testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy tests, emergency contraception, condoms or counseling.

Family planning has become more difficult than it has been in 50 years. Veuer’s Tony Spitz has the details. (September 2022)

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