STD vaccine bill heads to governor for signature
September 1st, 2011
By Valerie Schmalz
The California Catholic Conference is urging Californians to call Gov. Jerry Brown Jr. and urge him to veto AB 499, which would allow children 12 and older to be vaccinated against sexually transmitted disease without parental consent or knowledge.
“It’s just one more assault on parental rights,” said Carol Hogan, spokeswoman for the California bishops’ policy arm. The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, was passed by the state Senate 22-17 on Aug. 31. The lower house approved the legislation 50-25 in May.
Already children 12 and older may obtain an abortion or procure contraception without parental knowledge or consent in California, Hogan noted. They may also be treated for sexually transmitted disease without parental consent. The new legislation, if signed by the governor, would add another item to the list, Hogan said.
The bill would allow children to consent to treatment with the controversial Gardasil vaccine intended to prevent human papillomavirus virus, a sexually transmitted disease linked to cervical cancer. The cost of the legislation to the taxpayer is hard to quantify. The three-dose series costs approximately $300 to $500 per patient and the bill specifically relieves parents’ of financial responsibility.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends girls 12 and older be vaccinated against HPV. Bill sponsors say the danger of sexually transmitted diseases, particularly HPV, justifies the bill. One in 4 California teens who are sexually active contracts a sexually transmitted disease each year, according to the California Department of Public Health. However, a legislative analysis of the bill also noted that most cases of HPV dissipate without any treatment.
Supporters of the STD minor-consent legislation include NARAL Pro-Choice California, California Organization for Women, California Nurses Association, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and others.
In a press release when she introduced the legislation, Assemblywoman Atkins said, “America was able to eliminate polio in the 1950’s through vaccination, saving thousands of lives. AB 499 will help us do the same for sexually transmitted diseases."
Opponents say the bill not only undermines parental rights, it also exposes children to the unnecessary risks of a side effects as well as sending a message that sexual activity outside of marriage is permissible. An attempt to mandate vaccination by Gardasil for girls 12 and older failed in 2007 when parents’ rights groups and others, including the California Catholic Conference, successfully lobbied Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger who vetoed the bill. Common law assumes parental rights over a child's welfare but California has enacted a series of laws that erode those rights in matters relating to sexuality.
Hogan said the real agenda of AB 499 is disempowering parents and the result, when this is successful, is generally damaging to children because without knowledge parents will not know why a child is ill – whether from hemorrhaging from an abortion or symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases contracted while using contraceptives dispensed at school or at a local health clinic
“This kid gets horribly ill and because it is a big secret, they aren’t going to tell their parent why they are sick,” Hogan said. “It’s a health risk to the child if the parents don’t know what has happened to their child when the child is out of their presence.”
Attending the committee hearings in Sacramento, Hogan said, she has been struck by the general belief that parents are “hapless.” The tenor of the debate and discussion among witnesses and lawmakers is: “ ‘We have to give these children the power to take care of themselves because the parents don’t care.’ There really is that mindset if you sit in the committee hearings,” she said.
From the Sept. 9, 2011 issue of Catholic San Francisco.