Texas Federal Judge Rules Against HHS Birth Control Law

A Texas judge ruled a government program that provides teenagers with access to birth control violates a parent's "fundamental right" to control their minor.

Key takeaways:
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    A federal court made a decision that could make it very hard for teens in Texas to get birth control without their parent's permission.
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    Pro-choice and contraception advocates have been vocal about their disappointment with the Texas ruling, calling it "unconstitutional."
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    Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled that HHS' Title X program violated parental rights under Texas law, the U.S. Constitution, and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
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    This case will likely bring up more debate about "unenumerated rights," which are basic, natural rights that the Constitution protects (like travel, privacy, autonomy, and dignity).

A federal court rendered a decision that could make it hard for teens in Texas to get birth control without their parent's permission.

Texas Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk found the Health and Human Services Department’s (HHS) Title X, a federal program that offers free, confidential contraception to anybody, regardless of age, income, or immigration status, violated parents' rights as well as state and federal law.

Kacsmaryk's decision means teens who get birth control care through the Title X family planning program can no longer do so without telling at least one parent or guardian.

Jonathan Mitchell, former Texas's solicitor general who wrote the state's controversial law banning abortions after about six weeks, argued the case.

Mitchell represented Alexander Deanda, a father of three. In his first complaint, Deanda said he was "bringing up each of his daughters according to Christian teaching on sexuality, which says that unmarried children should abstain from sexual activity until they get married."

Deandra argued that the Title X program blocks parents’ ability to raise their kids according to their own religious beliefs.

In his final ruling, Kacsmaryk said that the way HHS ran the Title X program went against Deanda's rights as a parent under Texas law and the U.S. Constitution. He also claimed that the Title X program went against Deandra’s rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Former President Donald Trump picked Kacsmaryk to be a judge in 2019. He worked as a religious liberty advocate to overturn various contraceptive protections before becoming the U.S. District Court Judge for the Northern District of Texas.

Pro-choice and contraception advocates have been vocal about their disappointment with the Texas ruling.

"This ruling threatens the health and lives of young people, who may be stripped of their ability to access the health care they need to build healthy lives," Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a statement.

In a recent survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 68% of teens said the main reason they don't use birth control or protection is that they're afraid their parents will find out.

Even though teen birth rates are decreasing, the numbers vary based on location, income, and quality of education.

Texas has 176 Title X clinics, and in 2020, they helped more than 180,000 people. The vast majority of Title X clients in Texas do not have health insurance and live below the poverty line, and about 5% of them are under the age of 18.

Title X is the only federal program that funds low-income family planning services. Title X clinics have always encouraged family participation, but they have never required youth to tell their parents or get their permission.

Clare Coleman, president and CEO of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, said in a press release that Kacsmaryk’s ruling ignores "decades of legal precedent."

“Despite the fact that the right to contraceptive access is protected by the U.S. Constitution for all, including adolescents, this ruling seeks to lay the foundation to undo that right,” said Coleman.

This case is likely to spark more debate about "unenumerated rights," which are fundamental, natural rights protected by the constitution (like travel, privacy, autonomy, and dignity).

According to attorneys familiar with the case, there’s expected to be an appeal.

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