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Health organizations raise concerns about parental consent bill in NH Senate

Dan Tuohy
/
NHPR

A group of Republican state lawmakers wants to expand parental consent requirements for medical and mental health services provided to children. But multiple health care groups are calling the proposal unnecessary, and warning of unintended consequences.

Senate Bill 573 would require public and private entities to get parents’ permission before providing or “arranging” any surgery, physical exam, medication or mental health care for their child.

Republican Sen. Ruth Ward of Stoddard said it’s a response to fears that schools and doctors are shutting parents out of key decisions.

"Parents’ rights are being steadily stripped away by default and entrusted to state institutions,” she said Thursday before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Parental consent is already required for most medical care in New Hampshire when the patient is under 18. But there are limited exceptions, including substance use treatment, birth control, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

Kayla Montgomery, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said the federal Title X program – which funds reproductive health services for low-income people – requires they be available confidentially to all patients, including teenagers.

While Planned Parenthood staffers encourage parental involvement, Montgomery said that’s not always an option.

“Research shows that without access to confidential care, many adolescents would not seek needed health services because of fear and judgment by parents or guardians,” she said.

Similarly, Jacqui Abikoff, a licensed drug and alcohol counselor, said clinicians treating teen substance use try to get the parents involved whenever possible. But some young people may seek help only if they know their parents won’t be notified.

“It is highly unusual that a child seeking treatment without parental consent is doing so for any reason other than fear,” whether of abuse or getting a parent in trouble, she said.

The bill could also make it harder for school social workers to help struggling students, said Lynn Currier Stanley, who heads the National Association of Social Workers’ New Hampshire chapter. That could include anything from day-to-day trouble at school to an unsafe home environment or thoughts of suicide.

“Oftentimes the school social worker will have students come up to them and say, ‘Hey, can I talk to you for a minute?’ ” she said. “And if this bill passes, their answer is gonna have to be no.”

Stanley said parental consent is already required if a minor is receiving therapeutic services at school, or seeing a private therapist.

The Judiciary Committee has not yet acted on the bill.

Paul Cuno-Booth covers health and equity for NHPR. He previously worked as a reporter and editor for The Keene Sentinel, where he wrote about police accountability, local government and a range of other topics. He can be reached at pcuno-booth@nhpr.org.
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