The minor consent law needs your support

Opponents to the law live in a fantasyland, exhibiting a gross neglect of responsibility.

Jason Ketola

The Minor’s Consent to Health Services Act was signed into Minnesota law in 1971 allowing minors to receive some limited health services without parental consent or notification. Lawmakers at the time recognized the needs of runaways, abused children and other alienated youth for information and treatment related to STIs, pregnancy, prenatal care and delivery services, alcohol and chemical dependency, and some mental health issues. Note that abortion is not included in this law, and professionals are required to contact parents when a minor’s life is in danger. The law was an immediate boon to adolescent rights and has served to curb such problems as adolescent drug and alcohol abuse, teen pregnancy, STI transmission, etc.

Despite these observed benefits, opponents have charged that allowing minors to receive information and treatment without parental consent undermines parent-child relationships. Not infrequently, these opponents also charge that the law enables such “sinful” behavior as being sexually active outside of marriage. Beginning in 2003, these critics began mounting a legal campaign to have the law repealed.

While I’m willing to admit that facially, the opponents’ hypotheses seem plausible, the evidence shows them to be resoundingly false. Those opposing the law seem to have lost touch with the world of today’s youths and have totally dismissed the alienated youth the law originally was meant to address. As parents, would-be parents and individuals concerned for the well-being of today’s youths, we need to stand in support of the law.

Let’s cover the research first. In the recent documentary “Minnesota Confidential,” a film covering both sides of the debate, University professor of pediatrics and Director of the Healthy Youth Development Prevention Research Center Dr. Michael Resnick informs us that a wide body of research shows that where minor-consent laws exist, kids will tell at least one parent or a trusted adult about the services they use, except in a minority of cases for which their reasons for secrecy are well justified. In fact, a recent nationwide study of more than 6,500 boys and girls in grades five through 12 showed that 36 percent did not seek health care they needed because they were afraid of telling their parents. Furthermore, renowned teen sex researcher Douglas Kirby points out in his book “Emerging Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy” that sex education and contraceptive availability do not hasten the onset of sex in teens, frequency of sex, nor increase their number of partners. Sex education and contraceptive availability do, however, increase the practice of safer sex techniques.

Indeed, we should be overjoyed that adolescents are practicing safer sex given our hypersexualized media, which rarely, if ever, mention sexual health or the consequences of unsafe sex. I’ll avoid picking on any one genre of music or type of television programming to blame because undoubtedly it would come off as a cheap shot. The pressures surrounding sex are unavoidable, particularly in already hormonally charged youths.

Parents might wish their children not be exposed to mainstream messages about sexuality and might even succeed in barring them from their homes, but none will keep their kids from facing these messages at some point. All, except totally sequestered, youths face tremendous pressures in regard to sex and nearly everyone goes through a period of rebellion and dissociation from their parents.

Parents skeptical of experts should consider this question: Is it better for youths to have as resources professionals who can provide their daughters and sons with medically accurate information and who encourage and discuss ways in which they can talk to their parents, or is it better that youths should turn to their peers who are most likely just as pressured, secretive and uninformed as they are? Opponents to the Minor’s Consent to Health Services Act can continue to live in fantasyland, exhibiting a gross neglect of parental responsibility, or they can support the provision of resources that might just help or save their children.

The parent-child relationships envisioned by opponents of the law are unquestionably idealized, with parents and their children pictured communicating openly and honestly about every issue that troubles them and with parents providing appropriate responses. Certainly, this is an ideal to which we should aspire, but the vision seems to blind opponents to the real lives of the hundreds of youths in Minnesota who are homeless or runaways and the thousands who live with abusive or absent parents, let alone the lives of opponents’ own children.

In conducting the research for this column, I talked to many friends from “good families.” These friends came from a mixed bag of secular and religious backgrounds, but all were from the upper-middle class and many had attended private schools. Across the board, the intense pressure on these kids to perform and not disappoint their parents caused them to remain relatively silent on issues of sex, drugs and alcohol with their parents. Were it not for the resources provided under the Minor’s Consent to Health Services Act, several of them would undoubtedly have contracted STIs and might have become pregnant. Information and treatment on alcohol and drug use was also important in many instances; contrary to popular conception, pressure to drink and use drugs is tremendous in schools where kid have lots of disposable funds.

The Minor’s Consent to Health Services Act provides a necessary safety net for all youths in the modern era. We, as responsible parents and concerned citizens, would be remiss not to support it.

Jason Ketola welcomes comments at [email protected]

Commonwealth Fund. “1997 Survey of the Health of Adolescent Girls and Boys.” Retrieved from

Kirby, Doug. (2001). Emerging Answers: Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy

Minnesota Confidential. (2005). Produced by Ellen Benavides.