Beginning July 1, doctors in Mississippi will be required to collect samples of umbilical cord blood from certain teenage mothers.
The new law requires doctors and midwives to collect blood samples from umbilical cords for all births to girls who were 16 or younger when they conceived if there’s reason to suspect the pregnancy resulted from sex crimes against a minor, including if the girl won’t identify the child’s father, if the father is listed as “unknown,” if there’s a dispute over paternity, if the father is identified as being over 21 years old, or if the father is listed as deceased.
The blood sample will be stored at the state medical examiner’s office and can be used in criminal proceedings against the fathers. The samples can be collected without the father’s consent because cord blood is considered medical waste.
Teen Pregnancy in Mississippi
Despite the popularity of reality television shows depicting teenage pregnancies, nationally the teen pregnancy rate is at a record low, with 31.3 live births per 1,000 mothers ages 15 to 19. Mississippi has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the U.S., with 55 out of 1,000 births to mothers in that age range, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The new law is just one of Gov. Phil Bryant’s initiatives to lower teen pregnancy rates in the state since he took office in early 2012. Since then, he’s also signed a bill requiring the preservation of fetal tissue samples for DNA testing from all girls under 14 who receive abortions.
“As governor, I am serious about confronting and reducing teen pregnancy in Mississippi. Unfortunately, part of this epidemic is driven by sexual offenders who prey on young girls,” Bryant told Reuters. “This measure provides law enforcement with another tool to help identify these men and bring them to justice."
Representatives from his office were unavailable for comment Thursday.
However, the law already has its share of challengers, including women’s rights groups and legal watchdogs concerned about genetic privacy. Since the law is entering uncharted legal territory, it may be challenged in court on numerous grounds.
‘Not Representative of the Reality of Teen Sexual Encounters’
The Women’s Fund of Mississippi, a nonprofit women’s rights group, has taken public opposition to the law, saying it may have adverse and unintended consequences, including increasing the abortion rate.
“Young women who don’t want their rapist to be identified might not choose to receive medical care in a hospital or safe setting, thereby causing harm to themselves and their baby,” the group said in a statement. “They may also seek to terminate their pregnancy out of fear of retaliation if their abuser is identified.”
They said the bill’s message that teen pregnancies are caused by older men preying on younger women “is not representative of the reality of teen sexual encounters.” They cited a report from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy that says 65 percent of teen girls lose their virginity to boys their own age.
“The Women’s Fund believes the best way to protect young women, tackle the high teen birth rate, and reduce the unintended pregnancy rate is through access to teen-friendly health services and contraception, comprehensive sex education, as well as creating access to opportunity for those young women,” the statement concluded.