Archive for Friday, February 10, 2006

Judge: No credible evidence underage sex always harmful

February 10, 2006

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— A federal judge hearing a constitutional challenge to Kansas Atty. Gen. Phill Kline's opinion that a state reporting law requires doctors, teachers and others to report underage sex between consenting youths said the state presented no credible evidence that underage sex is always harmful.

U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten stopped short of issuing a decision from the bench, but he repeatedly interrupted Thursday's closing arguments by Assistant Atty. Gen. Steve Alexander to challenge his assertions.

"Motives are irrelevant - I want to deal with facts," Marten said. "Where is the clear, credible evidence that underage sex is always injurious? If you tell me because it is illegal - I reject that," Marten said.

The lawsuit filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights, a New York advocacy group, stems from Kline's 2003 opinion that the state's 1982 mandatory reporting law requires health care providers and others to tell authorities about consensual sex by underage youths.

The group contends that forced reporting discourages adolescents from seeking counseling and medical treatment and violates their rights to informational privacy.

The attorney general's office contends the statute requires mandatory reporting because sex is inherently harmful to underage children. In Kansas, the age of consent is 16.

At issue in the Kansas case is what the Legislature meant when it wrote the statute to say that doctors and others must have a "suspicion of injury" caused by abuse and neglect to trigger mandatory reporting.

Marten has repeatedly asserted during the two-week trial that wording appears to indicate that the Legislature meant to vest some discretion. On Thursday, he said he would extend that same discretion not only to health care providers but also to teachers, social workers, firefighters and others required by law to report child abuse.

Bonnie Scott Jones, the attorney representing the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in closing arguments that before Kline issued his 2003 opinion, health care providers and others could exercise judgment about what to report. She urged the court to issue a permanent injunction to eliminate that threat of prosecution.

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