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legal standing to refuse to adhere to the Hyde Amendment. That is a major policy change with tremendous ethical implications.
The chairman's bill also blurs the line between medicine and personal preference. How does this differ from a health care facility or an insurance company denying a critical procedure based on an ethnic bias or a racial bias? And I want to point out that once again the same Members of Congress who claim to be staunch champions of State and local sovereignty, who want to block grant Medicaid to gives States more flexibility, who want to privatize Medicare because it is a "one-size-fits-all," program, who constantly demonize the one-size-fits-all mentality of the Federal Government are now trying to impose a one-size-fits-all refusal clause at the State and the local level. Once you get into the realm of religion and ethics and morals, my conservative colleagues have no problem using the heavy hand of the Federal Government to stifle different perspectives at the State and local level.
Second issue we will discuss this afternoon is parental consent. title X, the only Federal program dedicated exclusively to funding family planning and reproductive health care services has helped to prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce abortions, lower the rate of STDs, including HIV, and improve women's health overall. A study 4 years ago reported that teen pregnancy rates fell 17 percent sine the rate peaked in 1990, and 75 percent of this decline reflects improved contraceptive use among sexually active teens, 25 percent due to reduced sexual activity. That is a very impressive track record that an overwhelming majority of Americans support.
What we are considering today would undermine the inherent value of a title X clinic, confidential access to family planning services, and require teens to get the consent of their parents before receiving contraceptives. While family planning clinics encourage minors to involve their parents in health care decisions, an admiral thing, as Chairman Bilirakis said, Congress cannot and should not write laws that will achieve communication between and adolescent and her or his parents where it simply doesn't exist.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Nurses Association, the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Family Physicians, among many other respected members of the medical community, all oppose, all those groups that are so involved in this kind of medical care oppose mandatory parental consent or notification requirements for teens receiving services at a title X family planning clinic for obvious reasons, that children and parents, young teens and parents don't always communicate as well as we would like.
This committee should respect the medical community's opinion as well as the success, the success that family planning clinics have achieved in reducing unintended teen pregnancies. Reducing unintended pregnancies is, after all, the key goal, it is a bipartisan goal, it should remain a bipartisan goal. I thank the chairman.
Mr. BILIRAKIS. The Chair thanks the gentleman. The Chair recognizes the chairman of the full committee, Mr. Tauzin, for an opening statement.
Chairman TAUZIN. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank you for holding this hearing today. I am pleased the committee is addressing two important ethical questions that impact health care in our country. Our committee spends a great deal of time exploring ways that we can improve access to health care for America's patients. But an equally important goal has always been that we ensure that ethical guidelines for our health care system are always maintained at the highest possible level. And this is true whether it involves issues pertaining to the rights of conscience of health providers or issues dealing with cloning
or stem cells, which this committee wrestled with not too long ago. We still maintain a responsibility to ensure the ethics and morals that are indeed the foundation of much of our society are not trampled upon because of Federal policies. And today we address two of those timely issues.
The first question we ask is should the Federal Government require health care providers to participate in procedures that violate their moral and religious beliefs? In my mind, the answer to that question is a clear no, although admittedly there are some differences of opinion here. Second, is the Federal Government, through some of our health care programs, undermining the critical role that parents play in guaranteeing the well being and the health of their children? That answer requires some analysis. More and more we are learning about instances where parents are currently being shut out of critical health care decisions regarding their children. I believe that is an unacceptable practice.
On the first question, it is important to note that for over 30 years State and Federal Governments have passed conscience clause statutes intended to protect health care providers from being coerced into performing procedures that violate their moral and religiously held beliefs. I supported these laws in the past, and I hope we can all continue to do so in the future. A health care provider should never be forced to abandoned his or her moral values and religious beliefs and be required to perform a particular procedure.
I would like to express my appreciation for the work of Chairman Bilirakis in raising awareness on this important issue. The chairman has offered the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act of this year, H.R. 4691, to clarify the intent of existing law so that it clearly prohibits the discrimination of health care entities who refuse to perform abortions. I strongly support this bill and encourage my colleagues to co-sponsor the bill if they have not already done so.
On the second question we are addressing today, I am frankly very pleased we are beginning to take a closer look at whether or not parents should be denied information about whether a minor that they are legally responsible for is permitted access to contraceptives. And while there are substantial differences of opinion regarding the value and effectiveness of title X programs, current title X regulations do not permit health care providers to use their best judgment or even discuss sensitive health care issues with parents without the express consent of the minor. I think this turns things on its head.
We learned, for example, at our welfare reform hearings last April, that when we were growing up, in the sixties, there were really two sexually transmitted diseases of great concern to be worried about. We were told today there are 25, and they include such diseases affecting young men and women in our society, very often women, as HPV, herpes and chlamydia. These are viral diseases; they cannot be cured, only managed. And when a title X clinic provides contraceptives and condoms to teens without the parent's consent or notification and there is no evidence that condoms reduce the sexual transmission of many of these infections, the health of these children, in many cases young women of our country, is put at risk without the parents even knowing that is occurring. That doesn't make sense to me.
And when title X clinics allow a child to begin taking a prescription drug or to have access to contraceptives, that encourage a child to make a choice to engage in sexual activities, that put them at risk for diseases that can't be cured, in some cases are non-detectable, they don't even know they have them until they find out they have lost their ability to have children because the disease has destroyed the reproductive capacities. Or they have now incurred a disease that maybe a precursor to cancer because their parents didn't have the chance to tell them maybe this isn't such a good idea for you, maybe you ought to try abstinence, because the parents didn't know because the title X clinic couldn't talk to the parent about these kind of important decisions that parents and children should be making in their lives.
Something has gone terribly wrong. If we only had these two diseases in the 1960's to worry about today, that would be one thing. Think about what young people are facing today, and think about the role that parents are being denied in caring for their own children and worrying about them, helping them make the right decisions. And I think you get a sense of why this is an important hearing today.
So Mr. Bilirakis, I want to thank you for conducting it, and I want to thank the witnesses who are going to come share their thoughts with us today. I hope we learn a little bit today, and maybe we will quell politics with the issue and begin thinking about what really is best for the children of our country. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. BILIRAKIS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for your statement. The gentlelady from California, Ms. Capps.
Ms. CAPPS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I appreciate your holding this hearing, and I appreciate our expert witnesses for being with us today.
Today, I am speaking and listening, not just as an elected representative but as a mother and a grandmother, a public health nurse and the former director of the Santa Barbara School District Teenage Pregnancy and Parenting Program, a program which provided, and does still provide, child care and development, child development services for school-age parents. I have first-hand real world experience with young men and women struggling with the difficult subject of sex. I have dealt with teenagers trying to cope with the ramifications of bad decisions, and I have worked with young women as they strive to make life-altering decisions. And I have seen the terrible results when we turn our back and deny them help. So today's subjects are of great personal interest to me, and I have significant concerns about them.
First of all, I can tell you from my experience that parental consent requirements for title X services will result in higher teenage pregnancy rates, period. Like most of my colleagues, I think it is, when at all possible, the best option for a teen considering sexual activity to speak with and consult with his or her parents. Parental involvement in our children's lives is crucial especially for issues like these. And for anyone who works with young people, the interest in bridging that relationship between child and parent is paramount, but not all young people have that option for a variety of reasons. And requiring parental notification and consent will cause many teenagers to avoid seeking help from health clinics. If you have ever sat with someone who is the victim of incest, you will know what this subject means.
These teens have unprotected sex, and they will struggle on their own to deal with the results. Many will seek unsafe abortions or will not get access to critical pre-natal care. No one wants that for our young people. Our best hope is to have a frank conversation with them and help them to understand the gravity of their choices. Parents need to have that role whenever possible. And then, as a last resort, we need to make sure that they have access to all needed services if their families fail them or are not there, literally not there for them.
Our other topic, the so-called conscience clause, is equally difficult. For decades, women have had to fight to get access to the reproductive health services they uniquely need. Programs like title X and Medicaid have risen up around their efforts, and I consider myself to be a religious person. I am very respectful, as respectful as I know how to be, of the deep-seeded beliefs and feelings that many Americans have on the subject of reproductive health. I grant them their right to have positions and feelings that may differ from mine, but I do not accept that anyone should have the authority to compel others to assume these beliefs as well.
Under current law, an individual who has a religious or moral objection to providing a service can refuse to offer it, but the law recognizes certain differences between an individual and an institution. Institutions do not have the same rights, nor should they. Health care facilities exist to provide services. It should be extremely rare when such a facility can deny anyone access to care. Even so, there are only minimal obligations on hospitals and other facilities. Under title X, they only have to tell someone what their choices are and where they can go to receive these services. And under Medicaid, hospitals and clinics will only be obligated to provide an abortion in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger. Enacting broader conscience clause for institutions will result in leaving women without the services that they have a constitutional right to.
So, Mr. Chairman, I think the current law gives sufficient deference to moral objections, and that we need to protect access to critically important reproductive health care. And I yield back the balance of my time.
Mr. BILIRAKIS. The Chair thanks the gentlelady. Mr. Pitts for an opening statement.
Mr. PITTS. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. First, thank you for holding this important hearing today, and thank the witnesses for appearing today.
Both the rights of conscience for health providers and a parent's right to know about prescription drugs for their minor children are a matter of basic ethics in health care. Mr. Chairman, I learned last year of the need for a comprehensive anti-discrimination protection for health care organizations that choose not to provide abortions. Shockingly, some of our fine private hospitals have recently threatened and even forced, compelled to provide abortions, a procedure to which they are opposed to providing.
Currently, Federal law does provide conscience protection for individuals and providers who choose not to perform or refer for abortions. However, recent court cases have demonstrated that this law needs to be clarified to protect hospitals and health care organizations from abortion-related discrimination.
Ms. Vosburgh, a witness before us today, represents Valley Hospital, located in Palmer, Alaska. Valley Hospital is a private, nonsectarian hospital that decided to have a policy against performing abortions. Valley Hospital had a right to have this policy since it, as I said, is a private hospital. Unfortunately, Valley Hospital was ordered to perform abortions against its will.
Mr. Chairman, this is wrong. Abortion is elective surgery, it is not prenatal care, it is not basic health care, as some of our friends would like us to believe. Private hospitals should be able to decide what types of elective surgery they wish to offer. If they don't want to provide abortions, they shouldn't have to. For every one hospital that does not provide abortion, there are scores of hospitals that do provide them. I wonder what other elective surgeries we will begin forcing our hospitals to provide next.
We are not talking about discrimination here, which would be offering a service to some patients and not others. We are talking about a private hospital board making a decision not to offer one type of elective surgery and making that decision apply to everyone who walks in the door, regardless of race, income, whatever.
Mr. Chairman, I am proud to be a co-sponsor of your legislation, the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act. This legislation strengthens existing law by saying that health care providers may not be required to provide abortions. It is common sense, I think it is a technical change. The authors of the 1996 law admit that they intended for hospitals and health care providers to be included in the definition of health care entity. However, unfortunately, the courts have misconstrued this and thus the need for further clarification.
The second issue before us today is even more disturbing. Mr. Chairman, in the State of Pennsylvania, a minor needs written parental or guardian consent to have his or her ears pierced, to get a driver's learning permit, to get married, to receive aspirin in school, to attend a field trip, to get a tattoo, to participate in athletic activity, to be absent from school, to ride a bus other than his own, the list goes on. We do not allow minors to attend R-rated movies, purchase tobacco products, consume alcohol. However, Federal regulations allow a minor to get contraceptives, including injected drugs, like Depo-Provera, and surgical implants, like Norplant, in health care clinics receiving title
X funds without parental consent. In fact, it is against the law for medical staff to inform parents that their child is receiving prescription contraceptives.