The heated debate over parents' rights got even hotter this weekend when California governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill allowing children as young as 12 to get vaccinated against sexually transmitted diseases without parental consent.
The bill, AB 499, written by assemblywoman Toni Atkins (San Diego, D), passed the California legislature on August 31, raising concerns with conservativepoliticos, pro-family organizations, and religious leaders about parents' rights to make decisions about their children's health.
"Our children need the knowledge and wisdom of their parents in order to make complicated medical decisions," commented Los Angeles archbishop Jose Gomez in an online newsletter. "This legislation would leave our children to make these decisions without the benefit of their parents' wisdom."
But supporters disagree, seeing the need to slow the spread of sexually transmitted illness, such as the human papillomavirus (HPV), as a more pressing concern. Currently, in California, minors are allowed access to confidential care for contraception, pregnancy, mental health care and drug abuse treatments. They can also seek diagnosis and treatment for HPV, but they still require permission from parents to get vaccinated against it.
Photo by Ed Ultman.
"I don't think we should be playing Russian roulette with kids' lives," said Atkins told the Associated Press.
The bill, which was introduced in February, didn't become a hot topic until recently, when Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann attacked the decision of Texas governor Rick Perry for mandating the vaccination of young girls against HPV -- a mandate that was quickly quashed by lawmakers in the state. Bachmann criticized his move and, on an appearance on the Today show shortly thereafter, Bachmann relayed emotionally-hijacking hearsay that strongly suggested the vaccines caused mental disability.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a statement opposing her claims, saying "there is absolutely no scientific validity to [the statements that the vaccine causes mental disability]." The vaccine, the statement went on, has "an excellent safety record" after over 35 million administered doses.
"The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Family Physicians all recommend that girls receive HPV vaccine around age 11 or 12," said Dr. O. Marion Burton, president of the AAP. "That's because this is the age at which the vaccine produces the best immune response in the body, and because it's important to protect girls well before the onset of sexual activity. In the U.S., about 6 million people, including teens, become infected with HPV each year, and 4,000 women die from cervical cancer."
Facing such criticism from the medical and scientific community as well as the media, Michele Bachmann back-pedaled, saying that, in regard to the story she told, she wasn't attesting to its accuracy. "I wasn't attesting to anything."
This fear-mongering does a great disservice to constituents. HPV isn't just the leading cause of cervical cancer. It has been linked to vaginal, vulval, anal, penile and pharyngeal cancer as well. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted disease and while condoms protect against HPV, they don’t completely prevent transmission. A study of college freshmen women who used condoms consistently showed that they still showed a 37.8 percent incidence of genital HPV. For those who did not, the incidence of HPV was 89.3 percent.
Many conservative states already allow minors to seek preventive treatment without parental consent. These states include Alabama, Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Montana, North Carolina, South Carolina and South Dakota.
By signing this bill into law, Brown has effectively enabled minors to seek other STI prevention treatments without parental consent, including new medicines that help avoid HIV infection if taken within 72 hours of exposure to the virus.
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