AUGUSTA — Health care providers and proponents of traditional family values squared off Tuesday over two bills that would give parents more control over the kinds of medical treatment their children receive, including substance abuse counseling and dispensation of birth control pills.

Supporters of the Republican-sponsored bills said parents should have the final word in deciding what kind of medical advice and treatment their children get.

Opponents said the bills would hamper the efforts of health care providers who struggle to help children from dysfunctional families. They said such legislation would make Maine the only state to require parental consent for contraception or treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

L.D. 31, sponsored by Rep. Richard Cebra, R-Naples, would require parental consent before a health care provider could dispense prescription medication.

L.D. 746, sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Chase, R-Wells, would require parental consent before children could receive treatment for substance abuse or psychological problems, except when children are married or emancipated, live separately or are determined to be at risk.

The Legislature’s Judiciary Committee combined the public hearings on the bills Tuesday because the supporters and opponents were, for the most part, the same people.

Cebra said he supports both bills for the same reason: They would strengthen families by giving parents more responsibility, he said.

“The family unit is the most important foundation of our society,” he said. “I believe families should be strengthened with every chance we can.”

A Zogby International poll showed that 70 percent of parents disapprove of their children being able to obtain contraception without parents’ approval or knowledge, said Charla Bensley of Ellsworth, who teaches English at the Calvary Chapel Christian School.

Passing out prescription birth control without parental consent has “devalued” both parental responsibility and committed relationships, said Bensley, who noted that there are no teen pregnancies in her school.

“Parental involvement in minors’ lives is essential in protecting young people from the folly of their desires,” she said.

Many people who spoke against the bills were health care providers, including doctors, psychologists and school nurses.

Rep. Anne Graham, D-North Yarmouth, who has worked as a pediatric nurse for 25 years, said some of her patients have parents who neglect them and are impossible to reach.

“This is real life,” she said.

Gordon Smith, executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association, spoke against both bills.

L.D. 31 would negate 10 state laws that past Legislatures have enacted to give doctors the flexibility and discretion they need to treat minors, he said.

Although L.D. 746 is well-intentioned, he said, it would have a “chilling effect” on adolescents seeking care and set up barriers to treating children with emotional or substance abuse problems. 

MaineToday Media State House Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 699-6261 or at:
[email protected]