Against outcries from its opponents, Gov. Jerry Brown has signed into law a bill that allows girls 12 years and older to get vaccinations to prevent sexually transmitted infections without parental consent.
The law approves a vaccine for hepatitis; a medication to reduce the risk of HIV after exposure; and, most contentiously, Gardasil and Cervarix, vaccines for human papillomavirus, or HPV, which can cause cervical cancer.
Supporters of the bill, which was sponsored by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), say that girls as young as 12 can already receive treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and this just enables prevention, a crucial part of health care. Regarding the HPV vaccine, supporters point to federal recommendations for the shot be administered at around 12 to increase the likelihood of protection before exposure.
Religious groups, vaccination opponents and parental rights groups say that a 12-year-old is too young to make such medical decisions themselves. Others say that vaccinations regarding sexual activity send the wrong message to young girls and that girls should be taught abstinence instead.
The issue is especially contentious after Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann cited a woman who said her daughter "suffered from mental retardation" after receiving the vaccine.
Art Caplan, the bioethicist who offered Bachmann $10,000 if she could produce evidence for her claims, told KPCC's Patt Morrison that he thinks any move to make more available a vaccine that prevents cervical cancer is a good idea.
Regarding the parental consent issue, Caplan commented, "We've carved out an area in law, in many, many states, that says you don't need your parents' permission if it pertains to your sexual health."
He added, however, that he's not sure that this bill will mean significant numbers of girls will initiate getting the vaccine themselves. "I worry that despite the law, it's not going to have much impact. Right now the uptake of this vaccine's about no more than 20 percent of women."
Caplan explained that, while he thinks girls shouldn't need parental consent, he also thinks a space needs to be "carved out" for daughters to talk to their parents about sex-related issues.
Shannon Smith-Crowley, director of government relations at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which co-sponsored the bill along with two other organizations, explained to Patt Morrison the reason behind the bill and the expected impact.
"We were looking at 15-, 16-, 17-year-olds that regularly come to the OB/GYN office for all kinds of other care and were able to consent to everything else except for this. So it is very unlikely that a 12-year-old will have the wherewithal and the motivation to get these vaccines. It'll likely be the older teens."
Is it acceptable for 12-year-old girls to get a vaccine without consent of their parents?
Arthur Caplan, director, Center for Bioethics, University of Pennsylvania
Shannon Smith-Crowley, director, Government Relations, American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, which cosponsored the bill along with the STD Controllers Branch and Health Officers Association of California