New Cord Blood Law Set to Begin In JulyBy Jeffrey Hess | Published 26 Jun 2013 06:00am |
Starting next week doctors and midwives in Mississippi will soon be required to take samples of umbilical cord blood from babies born to some teenager mothers.
The new law, which kicks in in July, is intended to catch older men having sex with young girls. Mississippi will be the first state in the nation to require this type of evidence collection.
Mississippi's Governor Phil Bryant says the idea grew out of his time as a Deputy Sheriff when he saw too many 13, 14, and 15 year old girls pregnant against their will.
"So I applied that knowledge as a law enforcement officer to these rape cases. It is a tragedy that I think has been accepted over the years where people say the young girl agreed to it so we have to accept it. And that has got to stop," Bryant said.
He thinks a way to stop those types of teen pregnancies is to require doctors and midwives to collect umbilical blood from babies whose mothers were less than 16 years old at the time of conception.
Many doctors in the state already collect these samples but instead of it being used for medical purposes it could now become criminal evidence.
Bringing down Mississippi's high teen birth rate is one of Bryant's main policy focuses, so he worked with Representative Andy Gipson, the Republican who drafted the bill that passed this year.
"Cord blood DNA that is already drawn will be processed through the state medical examiner's DNA database for the purpose of seeing if we can find who harmed that child. If for example the mother won't list the name of the father. And this is apparently an epidemic in some parts of the state," Gipson said.
There are a number of other triggers, such as listing the father as unknown, claiming he deceased or if the father disputes his paternity.
Mississippi has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation and Attorney General Jim Hood, a democrat, says the law could help bring that rate down.
""It is our hope that we can deter men over the age of 21 from having sex, particularly with girls 16 years and younger, particularly if they know we are going to pursue them," Hood said.
The law is not entirely clear if it is limited to men 21 years and older.
State statutory rape law kicks in if the two people are more the three years in age difference...until the girl is 16, the age of consent in Mississippi.
Roughly 65% of teenage pregnancies in the state occur between teens who are one or two years apart in age difference.
But the law is solution looking for a problem according to Jamie Holcomb-Bardwell with the Women’s Fund of Mississippi because so few teen pregnancies involve very young girls and much older men
"It is a lot easier for politicians to talk about protecting young women than it is for them to talk about adequate sex education, access to contraception, looking at multigenerational poverty, making sure we have an adequately funded education system. All of these things have been shown to decrease the teen pregnancy rate." Holcomb-Bardwell said.
In 2012, there were 111 babies born to girls younger than 15, out of the 61-hundred teenage births.
The state medical association is reluctantly on board with the bill as long as it doesn't criminalize medical activity.
Early versions of the bill included potential penalties for doctors that did not comply with the law, that was stripped out of the final draft.
Still, the law could be a 'hornet's nest' of legal problems says Matt Steffey a Constitutional law professor with the Mississippi college school of law
"So in other words, most of the instances that trigger this law aren't criminal acts to begin with. Even when they are, It is not at all clear that the legislature can deputize health care workers to collect evidence without a warrant," Steffey said.
The law doesn't explain who would prosecute the men if they are located, and it is determined they broke the law, because prosecutors would have to determine in which county the sex that caused the conception occurred in order to file charges.
The law also doesn't lay out who is going to pay for all the testing, the rules and regulations about implementation are still being drafted.
While Mississippi teen pregnancy rate is roughly 60-percent above the national average, it is near 40 year lows.
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