Once again I offer apologies for unavoidable inattention. I’ve been in transit again and now face a whole bunch of major family events. All of this means I cannot keep up with comments and it’s hard enough to post. It will be a while longer and then it should all settle down.
As reported in the papers, a new Mississippi law requires that anytime a girl younger than 16 gives birth and won’t name the father (the genetic father, they mean), the hospital must collect and retain cord blood for DNA testing. (The Reuters version says the cord blood must also be collected if the identified father is over 21. I have not read the legislation but I’ll assume that is correct.)
The articles go on to touch on some of the issues raised by the law: Cost–who will pay $1000 per test? Privacy–but it’s unclear whose. (They couldn’t test the baby’s blood without permission, but the idea is that the cord is abandoned/discarded and so no one can claim privacy.) And practicality (who will they be matching the DNA with?)
These are all good questions, but more interesting to me are the purposes advanced to justify the law. One is to uncover cases of statutory rape and aid in the prosecution of those cases.
Here’s how that is supposed to work: Broadly speaking, statutory rape is sex involving a person under the age of consent. Here’s the Mississippi statute. A key point is that it makes no difference if the sex is completely consensual–it’s still criminal. (Statutory rape laws are really quite interesting in their own right. That might be a topic for another day, though.)
Anytime a woman who is 16 or under gives birth you can pretty well guess she’s had sex with someone. Depending on his age, the man she had sex with may have violated the law. (The woman is not prosecuted because she is the victim.) Getting the baby’s DNA, which in turn allows identification of the genetic father’s DNA gives you the identity of the potential criminal defendant–assuming for the moment you have some bank of DNA to match against.
Given all the practical concerns though (the cost, the lack of any DNA banks to match against), one has to wonder if this is what is really going on. And this leads me ot he second purpose.
The AP says:
Statistics put the state’s teen pregnancy rate among the highest in the country. In 2011 — the most recent year for which statistics are available — there were 50.2 live births in Mississippi per 1,000 females ages 15-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The nationwide rate was 31.3.
The idea, then, is that somehow this law will reduce the rate of teen pregnancy. It’s supposed to do that by facilitating the prosecution of statutory rape–which takes us back to the above discussion. Is this actually likely to work? To be a crime in Mississippi, the man has to be 1) 17 or over and 2) at least three years older than the woman. So if the girl is 16 the man must be 19 or more. I wonder how many of the Mississippi’s teen pregnancies really are the result of statutory rape? No doubt there are some, but most?
Perhaps this detail is also relevant:
[The governor’s] staff says the idea for the law came from public meetings conducted by the governor’s teen pregnancy prevention task force — a group that focuses mostly on promoting abstinence.
In other words, the people who think that collecting cord blood will reduce the rate of teen pregnancy are the same people who think not teaching sex-ed will keep teenagers from having sex.
Now we actually might know something about how well the abstinence only approach works at reducing teen pregnancy–see the above block quote about Mississippi having one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the country? Nevertheless, the Mississippi legislature appears to be willing to try yet another bright idea from these folks.
Just imagine for a moment you really cared deeply about reducing the rate of teen pregnancy. Is collection and testing of cord blood how you’d choose to spend the state’s money?
One last note: We’ve occasionally had conversations here about universal DNA testing and the like. Not once has anyone suggested that an additional reason for doing this would be to reduce the teen pregnancy rate. Which, to me, suggests your all a lot more sensible than these folks in Mississippi.