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Doctors and Counselors Fight Kansas Law that Violates Teens' Rights to Confidential Health Care

Injunction Sought Against Kansas Reporting Law

Physicians, social workers, nurses, psychologists and a sex ed teacher are asking a federal judge to prevent Kansas law enforcement officials from requiring health-care and counseling professionals to report teenagers under 16 to the authorities when there is evidence that they are engaging in sexual activity. The plaintiffs, represented by the Center for Reproductive Rights, are seeking to prevent the law from being applied to consensual sexual activity between teenagers of similar age.

"Forcing health-care and counseling professionals to report minors to the state will breed a culture of distrust and drive adolescents away from medical treatment, psychological counseling and other services," said Bonnie Scott Jones, Staff Attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights and lead counsel for the plaintiffs. "Fewer adolescents will seek the reproductive and sexual health care that is crucial to decreasing unwanted pregnancies, abortions and sexually transmitted diseases."

On June 18, 2003, Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline issued an opinion interpreting the law to require health-care and counseling professionals to report all suspected sexually active adolescents under the age of 16 for investigation. These professionals must report even when the adolescents have engaged in consensual sex with people of similar age or if there is no evidence of injury.

The plaintiffs are requesting an injunction against this application of the law because it would violate the rights of adolescents to maintain the confidentiality of private information about their sexual behavior and their medical and psychological health care.

Studies indicate that any threat to confidentiality-let alone reporting sexually active adolescents to the state-is a strong deterrent against adolescents seeking reproductive health care, particularly contraceptive services and information on prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. For example, a study published in 2002 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that nearly 47% of sexually active girls under the age of 18 would stop seeking all reproductive health services if their parents knew they were trying to obtain contraceptives. But the majority of these young women said they would continue to be sexually active.

Plaintiffs in Aid for Women v. Foulston include obstetricians and gynecologists, registered nurses, psychologists, social workers, a family practice physician, a sex educator and a perinatologist. They are represented by Bonnie Scott Jones and Simon Heller from the Center for Reproductive Rights and Laura B. Shaneyfelt, an attorney with Hulnick Law Offices, P.A.