| JACKSON, Miss., June 7
JACKSON, Miss., June 7 Mississippi will require
doctors to collect umbilical cord blood from babies born to some
young mothers, under a new law intended to identify statutory
rapists and reduce the state's rate of teenage pregnancy, the
highest in the country.
The measure, which takes effect on July 1 and is the first
of its kind in the country, targets certain mothers who were 16
or younger at the time of conception. Under the law, doctors and
midwives will be expected to retrieve umbilical cord blood in
cases where the father is 21 or older or when the baby's
paternity is in question.
Samples will be stored at the state medical examiner's
office for testing in the event that police believe the girl was
the victim of statutory rape. But they will not automatically be
entered into the state's criminal DNA database.
Supporters of the law say it offers an important new tool to
prevent older men from having sex with younger girls. Critics
argue, however, that it violates privacy and will do little to
deter teen pregnancy.
"We think it's a very invasive law to a woman who is already
in a vulnerable situation," said Carol Penick, executive
director of the Women's Fund of Mississippi, a nonprofit
organization dedicated to women's rights.
Mississippi leads the nation in teen live-birth rates with
55 out of 1,000 babies born to young women between the ages of
15 and 19, according to 2010 data from the Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention. The national average was 34.2 live
births per 1,000 population and the lowest was 15.7, in New
Hampshire, the CDC reported.
Governor Phil Bryant said, "As governor, I am serious about
confronting and reducing teen pregnancy in Mississippi.
Unfortunately, part of this epidemic is driven by sexual
offenders who prey on young girls. This measure provides law
enforcement with another tool to help identify these men and
bring them to justice."
Mississippi is the first state to pass such a law, said the
bill's author, Republican state Representative Andy Gipson. The
state will pay for the costs of the collection and testing of
cord blood, Gipson said, adding that testing will be conducted
as needed as part of criminal proceedings. An estimate of those
costs was not yet available.
Bryant also championed a 2012 state law requiring doctors to
preserve fetal tissue in abortions involving girls under 14 if
they suspect the pregnancy resulted from a sex crime against a
UNCHARTED LEGAL TERRITORY
The latest measure puts Mississippi in uncharted territory
and opens it to legal challenges, according to Matt Steffey, a
constitutional law professor at Mississippi College School of
"The argument is that the DNA is abandoned or about to be
abandoned as medical waste, and a person doesn't have
constitutional privacy over trash," he said. "But I think people
are understandably nervous about the government collecting and
permanently storing information from their DNA."
Steffey said the law puts doctors in the awkward position of
acting as law enforcement officers. The state medical
association successfully pushed for a penalty exemption for
doctors who do not comply in good faith.
"Physicians would rather the Board of Medical Licensure
supervise and regulate the practice of medicine instead of
having government intrusion between doctors and patients," said
Thomas E. Joiner, immediate past president of the Mississippi
State Medical Association.
Penick said the state would be better off pursuing proven
teen pregnancy prevention methods, such as comprehensive sex
education and access to confidential health services.
Mississippi requires public schools to teach sex education,
but the instruction is limited to either an abstinence-only or
abstinence-plus curriculum, which critics say is not
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Steve Orlofsky)