Wichita Eagle (11.26.03) - Wednesday, November 26, 2003
On Tuesday, doctors and lawyers squared off in federal court
in a case involving how much discretion to give physicians and
prosecutors in reporting sexual practices among people under
Last summer, Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline presented a
controversial opinion that said doctors, psychologists, nurses
and other health care providers should report all suspected
sexual activity in that age group. Under a 20-year-old state
statute, any sexual contact by someone under 16 can lead to
criminal charges. Before Kline's opinion, health care
providers were only required to report instances where they
believed sexual activity had harmed a young person. Now
doctors fear the law will silence teens and put them at risk.
Health experts say teens will not stop having sex because of
the ruling but will stop seeking the health care that can
prevent STDs and unwanted pregnancies. Doctors agree that
cases of sexual abuse - such as rape, incest or molestation -
should continue to be reported.
Jonathan Klein, an expert on adolescent medicine, coauthored a
study showing that most teens do not access health care due to
fear and embarrassment. That can lead, he cautioned, to young
people not seeking contraceptives or counseling on sexual
Health care providers asked for an injunction so prosecutors
cannot charge them with a Class B misdemeanor for not
reporting less serious cases. Some doctors testified that such
a charge could put their licenses at risk or cause them to
face ethical violations.
Aid to Women, a health service that provides abortions, is
bringing the class action. Clinic officials fear Kline's
action gives the state too much authority to target teens and
health care providers for criminal investigations.
The judge in the case is expected to rule by late December.