Editor’s note: The following information was provided by the Legislative Press and Public Information Bureau.
STATE HOUSE — Rep. Joseph M. McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Warwick, Cranston) has introduced legislation that would allow minors to consent to medical care involving pregnancy.
The bill (2018-H 7193) would provide that any person, including, but not limited to, a minor who is pregnant, could give effective consent for medical, dental, health and hospital services relating to prenatal, delivery, and post-delivery care.
“As it now stands, at the moment a girl below the age of 18 delivers a baby, she has complete medical authority over that child,” said Representative McNamara, chairman of the House Committee on Health, Education and Welfare. “But up until that time she needs parental permission for medical services. And there are situations where that young parent cannot get parental consent for a variety of reasons.”
Dr. Emily White, a Rhode Island obstetrician, gave testimony to the Health, Education and Welfare Committee last week, saying, “Teenage pregnancy is never an ideal situation, but it does happen. And when it does, we want to make sure these young women receive the best medical care. Because of the current law, there can be many barriers to these young women receiving timely and appropriate care.”
Doctor White proceeded to give examples, such as pregnant teens in labor who cannot be given appropriate anesthetic because they have to wait sometimes hours for their parents to be reached to give consent. She also gave an extreme example of a pregnant teen who could not get parental permission and ended up having her baby on the street with no prenatal care whatsoever.
After peaking in 1991, the U.S. teen birth rate reached a historic low in 2015, with decreases among all racial and ethnic backgrounds. Rhode Island’s teen birth rate mirrors national trends, peaking in 1993 and reaching an historic low in 2015, according to the Kids Count Factbook. That year in Rhode Island, 539 babies were born to mothers under age 20, accounting for 5 percent of all babies born — the lowest rate ever recorded.
With the passage of this legislation, Rhode Island would join 37 other states that already allow the consent of a minor in prenatal and delivery care.
The bill is cosponsored by Representatives Edith H. Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence), Susan Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol), Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown) and Camille F.J. Vella-Wilkinson (D-Dist. 21, Warwick).