Kansas, the center of the debate on teaching evolution in schools, is now the center of a debate on consensual underage sex.
At issue is a 2003 interpretation of a 1982 law. The Attorney General's opinion requires doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and social workers to report to the state any instances of underage sex (16 is the age of consent), whether or not abuse is alleged by the child or inferred by the experts.. The AG "contended the reporting was required because such sex inherently involves abuse of a child."
A trial on the constitutionality of the law began in January in Wichita, US District Judge J. Thomas Marten presiding. The lawsuit was brought by The Center for Reproductive Rights, an organization that advocates for reproductive rights.
On the first day of the trial, which is being heard without a jury, plaintiff witness Dr. Robert Blum, a professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, asserted that the Attorney General interpretation would have "a chilling effect on youths seeking contraception or treatment for sexually transmitted disease - ultimately leading to more teen pregnancies, more abortions and more disease spreading."
Youths will be less likely to seek treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and therefore more likely to spread them to others, he said. Untreated, they would also pose significant health consequences to themselves.
However, Assistant Attorney General Steve Alexander asserted that "[m]inors cannot consent to illegal sexual activity."
Judge Marten extensively questioned a state witness who insisted that the Kansas sexual activity notification law would force minors to "come to terms with their life."
Allan Josephson, professor of psychiatry at the University of Louisville and chief executive officer of the Bingham Child Guidance Center said, "This reporting introduces the kind of distress ... that forces change." In other words, if they think that their activity will be reported, they won't have sex.
Josephson acknowledged under questioning that while some adolescents may not see a doctor because of the mandatory reporting law, a good number would cease their sexual activities because the intervention by authorities would cause a family crisis and lead to resolution.
The testimony prompted an incredulous U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten to extensively question Josephson himself. During one point in the exchange, Josephson even chided the judge for saying that underage sex has been going on for ages.
"This notion kids are going to do it anyway is very destructive," Josephson told the judge.