September 8, 2009 — Despite its high teen pregnancy rates, Texas has some of the most restrictive policies in the U.S. regarding minors' access to prescription birth control without parental consent, the Dallas Morning News reports. Texas has the highest rate of repeat teen pregnancies in the nation, and Dallas leads the state in the number of repeat births to teens.
Despite these high rates, state funds cannot be used to provide minors with confidential contraceptive services. Even teens who have already given birth are prohibited from obtaining contraceptives without parental consent at nearly one-third of family planning clinics that contract with the state health department. According to the Morning News, many public health officials and women's health advocates say that doctors are unaware that Texas law does not address whether a minor may independently obtain contraceptives.
Policies on prescribing birth control to minors differ at various providers, the Morning News reports. In North Texas, most private and public clinics will prescribe contraceptives to minors without notifying their parents, but all 10 school-based clinics operated by the Parkland Health & Hospital System require parental consent. In addition, many private practice physicians in the Dallas-Fort Worth area refuse to prescribe birth control to minors without parental consent.
Texas is one of four states that does not cover contraceptives under its version of the Children's Health Insurance Program. In addition, although Texas spends $1.2 billion for Medicaid to cover 228,000 births each year, it does not automatically extend coverage for family planning services for one year postpartum, as some states do.
Critics of the state's restrictive policies say conservative leaders do not have a realistic view of teens' sexual activity. "We're in denial that our teens are sexually active," said Janet Realini, a former leader of the Bexar County health department in San Antonio who is working to reduce teen pregnancy. Only 4% of Texas schools teach students about the potential benefits and risks of contraception; instead, most schools teach an abstinence-only curriculum that focuses on the failure rate of various contraceptive methods. A spokesperson for Gov. Rick Perry (R) said that he supports abstinence-only education and believes that "the state should not usurp the role" of parents (Garrett, Dallas Morning News, 9/7).