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Texas court gives father power over daughter’s birth control use

A federal appeals court has ruled that a Texas father has the authority to consent to his teenage daughter’s use of birth control under the federal Title X programme, claiming a state parental rights law preempts the federal statute.

On Tuesday, a three-panel judge of the conservative Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that prevents minors from obtaining contraceptives at federally-funded Title X clinics without parental consent. But they stopped short of ruling whether or not those groups could notify parents or obtain consent.

The decision ignores a long-held precedent that says minors have similar rights to adults in accessing contraceptives without parental consent.

It was based on a case, first brought forward in 2020, by Alexander Deanda – a father of three girls who is raising his children “in accordance with his Christian beliefs”, which includes abstaining from pre-marital sex. He claimed that he wanted to be informed of his children’s access or trial of contraceptives and that a Texas state law awarded him that right.

Mr Deanda’s lawsuit was brought by Jonathan Mitchell, the former solicitor general of Texas, the attorney who argued to the Supreme Court in favour of Donald Trump in Trump v Anderson and the man credited with creating the novel legal theory that helped Texas ban abortion at six weeks.

He argued that the Texas law conflicted with the federal statute in Title X, a federally-funded family planning and reproductive health programme that gives low-income people or families access to services like contraceptives, sexually transmitted infection exams, cancer screenings and more.

Birth control pills rest on a counter in Centreville, Maryland (AFP via Getty Images)
Birth control pills rest on a counter in Centreville, Maryland (AFP via Getty Images)

Title X allows those without health insurance, or who cannot afford to pay for services, to obtain confidential care with fees based on income – regardless of age and immigration status. This means minors can access care without parental consent.

The government argued that since Mr Deanda did not have standing for his arguments because he had not shown that any of his children tried to obtain birth control without his knowledge or consent.

But the Fifth Circuit returned their opinion saying Mr Deanda does have standing and argued that allowing Title X to preempt Texas’s law would be an “invasion” of Mr Deanda’s state-given right. The court did not rule on whether his argument violated his constitutional right.

In their rulings, the judges also argued that “Title X’s goal (encouraging family participation in teens’ receiving family planning services)” and “Texas’s goal (empowering parents to consent to their teen’s receiving contraceptives) … reinforce each other.”

“Title X encourages young people to involve a parent or guardian in their healthcare decision-making. However, not all teens have a trusted adult with whom they can have those important conversations, and they turn to their healthcare provider for confidential care,” Stephanie LeBleu, a Title X project director at Every Body Texas, said in a statement. 

The government can appeal the Fifth Circuit’s ruling, sending it to the Supreme Court. However, it is unclear if the court would take up the case.