Court considers new interpretation of juvenile sex law

? An opinion by Atty. Gen. Phill Kline that Kansas can require health care professionals to report all suspected underage sexual activity changes nothing in existing state law, his office told a federal judge Tuesday.

Judge J. Thomas Marten told attorneys during a five-hour hearing that he was mostly concerned about what was going to be required under the 1982 reporting statute and Kline’s recent reinterpretation of it.

At stake is whether Kansas can compel doctors, nurses, psychiatrists, social workers and others to report all instances of underage sex as evidence of child abuse. Kline contends the law requires it because sex involving someone under 16 is illegal in Kansas, even if it involves willing same-age partners.

After hearing five hours of testimony — mostly by health care workers — Marten gave attorneys until Dec. 12 to file their written closing arguments. A decision on whether Marten will issue an injunction against Kline’s interpretation would come after a Dec. 19 deadline for responses.

The Center for Reproductive Rights, a New York advocacy group, contends that forced reporting of even consensual sex discourages youths from seeking counseling or medical treatment.

In July, Kline issued an opinion dealing mostly with abortion and the question of whether doctors must report a pregnancy as evidence of child abuse. Kline said that because sex involving someone under 16 was illegal, it required a report to law enforcement officials or the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services.

The center argued in its lawsuit that Kline’s opinion contradicted one issued in 1992 by then-Atty. Gen. Bob Stephan.

To make its case, the center put on the stand a Kansas clinical psychologist, a New York pediatrician and a Kansas gynecologist — who testified that confidentiality was essential to sexually active youths seeking medical treatment or counseling.

“Mandatory reporting would harm adolescents in Kansas by requiring physicians to break confidentiality,” said Dr. Jonathan Klein, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester in New York.

About 20 percent of the nation’s youngsters age 14-15 report having sexual intercourse, Klein said, and even more are engaging in other sexual behavior.

Dr. Margaret Estrin, an Overland Park obstetrician and gynecologist, testified many adolescents would not seek medical care or delay medical care for a pregnancy if physicians told them their sexual activity would be reported.

Clinical psychologist Beth McGilley also testified that confidentially was “critically important” to adolescents seeking counseling. The effect of Kline’s ruling would be to require her to tell her patients that their underage sexual activity would be reported to authorities.

“I think the effect would be tragic, and frankly catastrophic,” McGilley said.