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The privacy rights of teenagers are being put to test in Kansas, where a federal lawsuit is challenging a so-called “kiss and tell” law requiring all sexual activity by young teens be reported to authorities. Under the 24-year-old law, doctors, school counselors and psychotherapists, among others, are required to report the sexual activity of anyone younger than 16 as evidence of child abuse. In a bench trial that started last week, the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) is challenging the law on behalf of counseling and medical professionals, arguing that it threatens the confidentiality of teenagers seeking health care services. They fear that the law could set a dangerous precedent. “This move is not an isolated one . . . .It’s part of all sorts of efforts to prevent adolescents from being able to access health services and make reproductive health care choices in a confidential manner,” said CRR attorney Bonnie Scott Jones. But state officials defended the law, saying it helps authorities fight child abuse. “The state has an interest in enforcing state law and in protecting children,” said Whitney Watson, spokesman for Kansas Attorney General Phill Kline. “Unfortunately, [the plaintiffs] have spun, and the media has chosen to write, that this is all about two 15-year-olds after homecoming, and that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about 12- and 13-year-olds who end up pregnant and the attorney general has opined that they have been raped.” According to Watson, the CRR filed its lawsuit in 2003, when Kline issued an opinion on the child-abuse reporting law. Kline’s interpretation held that any sexual activity involving teens younger than 16 must be reported, even when it’s consensual, involves teens of the same age and abuse is not suspected. In July 2004, a federal judge ordered the law enjoined until the court reached a final decision. Defendants appealed to the 10th Circuit, which on Jan. 27 ruled that a minor’s right to privacy is overridden by the state’s interest in protecting public health and “best interests” of minors. Aid for Women v. Foulston, No. 03-CV-1353-JTM (D. Kan.).

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