If you’re 15 and want to be tested for pregnancy or STDs, can you do so legally without your parent’s permission?
In Pennsylvania, the answer is yes. But even for health care professionals, understanding the rules for underage patients can be challenging. To offer some guidance, the state chapter of the ACLU has launched a new, teen-friendly website.
“We really wanted to take this complex legal information and distill it for a 14- to 17-year-old audience to make sure that they understood their rights and they would seek the health care that they needed,” said Julie Zaebst, project manager for the organization’s Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project, which developed the site.
The brightly colored webpages offer answers to questions teenagers might have about birth control, sexual assault, and the ability to legally refuse a drug test, among others.
Since each state makes it own rules about how much independence adolescents have as patients, the information is tailored for Pennsylvania residents. Like many states, Pennsylvania generally allows minors more latitude to be treated on their own when dealing with sensitive issues such as reproductive or mental health. But there are exceptions, including abortion, which requires parental permission.
After speaking with teenagers in several focus groups, the ACLU also decided to include legal information about sexting.
“The thing that’s blown the most teens away is that if you are under 18 and you are consensually sexting with a boyfriend or girlfriend, that is, in fact, illegal under Pennsylvania law,” said Zaebst.
To make that point, the site offers a flow chart of how serious a sexting charge in the state might be — from a summary offense to a second-degree misdemeanor.