The South Dakota legislature made an error in passing HB1223. It sets a dangerous precedent and violates fundamental parental rights.
The bill states that if a parent cannot be reached or withholds consent (for any reason), the minor’s consent alone is sufficient for pregnancy related procedures. It allows doctors to override parents’ objections. This is a direct assault on the fundamental right of parents to direct the care, upbringing and education of their children, which has been established by almost 100 years of precedent and case law.
The bill gives broad authority to the minor (and possibly the health care provider) while disregarding parents. It provides that the pregnant minor can consent to any medical or dental service including hospitalization and surgery, related to the minor’s prenatal, delivery process or post-natal care. (Excluding abortion)
While stories were shared in proponent testimony, no data or empirical evidence could be produced by any proponent, even when specifically asked by the committee, to demonstrate that this is a widespread problem that needs to be addressed in statute. In fact, the opposite is true. Dr. Mark Ballard, an OB/GYN from Rapid City, testified on HB 1220 in 2021, which is the same bill as HB 1223 in 2022.
Dr. Ballard stated that, “This issue doesn’t happen a lot…These types of family dynamics are not what most people experience.”
“Most of the time we do see at least one parent or legal guardian that will consent to a minor coming in for prenatal care. That is the norm,” Ballard continued. “These situations are not that common when we talk about teen pregnancies. Most often a parent or guardian is present or able to be reached by telephone.”
It’s clear that HB 1223 is not necessary. There was not even one person who testified that they had been harmed by the absence of the provisions contained in HB 1223. As pointed out by committee questions and comments, physicians currently have the ability to treat minors prior to parental consent, under SDCL 20-9-4.2 (in effect since 1983) when delaying care would create risks to the life or health of the patient. Knowing this, one must ask oneself, what is the real purpose of HB 1223?
Further, the bill states, “a pregnant minor who has the mental capacity to consent.” However, it does not define mental capacity. How will mental capacity be assessed? Who assesses it? Who makes the final determination if the pregnant minor has the mental capacity to consent? This bill is too broad, vague and undefined.
Parents must be the primary decision makers when it comes to their children’s medical decisions. Only they know what is best for their children, and if they object to a medical procedure, it is likely in the best interest of the minor. The state has no business overruling parents and dismissing their rights.
Further, children do not yet have the knowledge or maturity necessary to make important healthcare decisions for themselves. In order to protect them, we must ensure that parents have the final say.
While there are cases of parental abuse that need to be addressed, we can find narrow ways to handle those situations rather than allowing doctors to disregard all parents.
The bill was delivered to the Governor’s desk yesterday for her consideration.