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Birth control for teens subject of initiative

The proposal would keep health services from minors unless their parents approve

It's too late for the November ballot, but local organizers of an anti-government political party want to stop officials in Jackson County from providing birth control and other services to minors without their parents' consent.

Members of the Constitution Party of Oregon will start collecting signatures immediately for an initiative aimed at the March 2003 ballot.

Jackson County Clerk Kathy Beckett on Monday approved filing of the proposal known as the Family Integrity Initiative. Aimed at Jackson County and six others in the state, it would prohibit minors' access to public health services without their parents' knowledge.

Local supporters must collect 3,415 signatures by January to qualify the initiative for the March ballot. Confusion over the initial wording of the initiative delayed signature gathering in time for the next election, Beckett said.

The initiative is aimed at maintaining parental authority in their children's lives, said Dean Riffert of Rogue River, one of the three chief petitioners.

In my view, it's basically to prevent the government at the county level from superseding the role of the parents, he said.

The other two petitioners are Harry Stevens of Medford and Carol Malcolm of Talent.

State law now ensures children under 18 access to birth control, family planning services and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases without parental consent.

Local health officials fear the proposal would have a chilling effect on teens' willingness to seek contraception and disease treatment and on the county's ability to reach a sensitive population with vital services.

I think it's a huge worry, said Hank Collins, director of Jackson County Health and Human Services. I think what will happen is our teen pregnancy rates will go through the ceiling, because a lot of the kids we serve will not get consent from their parents.

Some 200 people under age 18 receive county services for birth control and sexually transmitted diseases each week, Collins estimated.

If you add mental health services, it's a huge number, he added.

Collins' concern was echoed by Peter Sage, president of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Oregon. If the measure passed, Planned Parenthood would supply services to fill the void, but the community would be poorer for it, Sage said.

It is in the interest of everyone in the county that the incidents of disease and unwanted pregnancy be minimized or eliminated. The more access there is, the better off you are, Sage said.

In part, the proposed ordinance reads:

The citizens of Jackson County do not want minor children to receive public services without the knowledge and permission of their parents. It makes exceptions for emergency services.

Proponents of the initiative, however, said the issue goes beyond birth control or disease services to a philosophy of family autonomy.

I personally wouldn't like the government to be providing any services to my minor children without my knowledge, Riffert said.

But health officials maintained that the protection offered by existing state laws is necessary.

We see situations where young women are being molested by their fathers and are trying to avoid pregnancy, Collins said. Women need access to health care.

The Family Integrity Initiative is being considered in six other Oregon counties: Clackamas, Washington, Columbia, Marion, Polk and Yamhill. Only Columbia County gathered enough signatures in time to qualify for the November ballot.

The Constitution Party, which boasts 1,400 members statewide and 120 in Jackson County, advocates a Christianity-centered philosophy of life, liberty and limited government, according to its Web site:

Reach reporter JoNel Aleccia at 776-4465, or e-mail