Updated: 4:00 p.m. EDT.
RALEIGH, N.C. — A bill restricting teenagers’ access to medical and mental health care initially scheduled to be voted on in the North Carolina House of Representatives on Wednesday was taken off the calendar and sent back to the Judiciary Committee.
The bill would prohibit youth under the age of 18 from receiving prevention, diagnosis and treatment for pregnancy and abortion, sexually-transmitted diseases, HIV/AIDS, mental health and substance abuse without the express written and notarized consent of their parent or guardian. The legislation would also restrict minors’ access to contraception.
The bill (H693) could be the most restrictive in the nation and advocates serving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) young people say they are concerned about the bill’s possible affect on their services.
“My biggest fear is for youth who have estranged relationships with their parents,” said James Miller, executive director of the LGBT Center of Raleigh. “I’m concerned with the youth who come to us and who say, ‘I cannot talk to my parents, I cannot talk to a trusted adult, I don’t have a trusted adult in my life.’ This bill really does put a hinderance on youth who need to access mental health or sexual health services.”
Rodney Tucker, executive director of the Charlotte-based Time Out Youth, said his organization’s services will definitely be affected. One of his staff currently has a provisional license for professional counseling and will be required to follow the proposed legislation’s restrictions once the organization is able to offer therapeutic services this fall. At that time, he said, youth under the age of 18 will need parental consent for Time Out Youth’s counseling.
“We have big concerns on delaying of treatment, increase risk of spreading disease, how this could impact depression/suicide,” Tucker said in a statement via email. “Our youth have very few safe places, this law would change the patient client relationship with their medical provider.”
Proponents of the bill include two organizations known for their anti-LGBT advocacy.
Tami Fitzgerald of the N.C. Values Coalition, the leading proponent of last year’s anti-LGBT state constitutional amendment on marriage, called the teen medical ban “a commonsense bill that puts control back in the hands of the parents, where it belongs,” according to WRAL Capitol Bureau Chief Laura Leslie.
“There is something insanely wrong about physicians’ associations coming into this building and asserting that their judgment should be substituted for the judgment of a child’s parents,” Fitzgerald told a House committee on Tuesday.
Jere Royall with the North Carolina Family Policy Council also supported the bill during its committee hearing: “Sexually transmitted diseases, abuse of controlled substances or alcohol, mental illness or pregnancy are critical, sensitive and necessary areas for parents to be aware of and involved in.”
Miller’s LGBT Center of Raleigh provides weekly safe space and social activities for LGBT youth, some under the age of 18. His group’s weekly “Youth Coffee House” doesn’t offer clinical or medical services, but the bill, Miller said, could have a chilling effect on his youths’ ability to access referrals.
“Ultimately, it hurts the child,” Miller said of the bill. “I’m concerned about youth not utilizing competent health care and not having to rely on WebMD searches or questioning whether they have HIV.”
Rates of new HIV infections among young gay and bisexual men have been growing, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. From 2008 to 2010, the rate of new infections among young men who have sex with men aged 13-24 increased by 22 percent.
“We know that anyone who knows their status is multiple times less risky in their sexual health,” Miller said. “[The bill] is going to discourage youth from finding out their status. It’s a public health nightmare.”
The North Carolina AIDS Action Network is encouraging citizens to contact their legislators on the bill. The North Carolina chapter of the National Association of Social Workers is also distributing an action alert today.