Nation

Miss. requires DNA test for girls under 16 who give birth

JACKSON, Miss. — If a girl younger than 16 gives birth and won’t name the father, a new Mississippi law — probably the first of its kind in the nation — said authorities must collect umbilical cord blood and do DNA tests to prove paternity as a step toward prosecuting statutory rape cases.

Supporters contend the law will chip away at Mississippi’s teen pregnancy rate, which has long been one of the highest in the nation. But critics say that though the procedure is painless, it invades the medical privacy of the mother, father, and baby. And questions abound: At about $1,000 each, who will pay for the DNA tests in the nation’s poorest state? Even after test results arrive, can prosecutors compel a potential father to submit his own DNA and possibly implicate himself in a crime? How long will the state keep the DNA on file?

Advertisement

Republican Governor Phil Bryant said DNA tests could lead to prosecution of adult men who have sex with underage girls.

‘‘It is to stop children from being raped,’’ said Bryant, who started his career as a deputy sheriff in the 1970s. ‘‘One of the things that go on in this state that’s always haunted me when I was a law-enforcement officer is seeing the 14- and 15-year-old girl that is raped by the neighbor next door and down the street.’’

Get Breaking News in your inbox:
Find out about important news stories as soon as they break
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

But Bear Atwood, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, said it is an invasion of privacy to collect cord blood without consent of the mother, father, and baby. She also said that an underage girl who does not want to reveal the identity of her baby’s father might skip prenatal care: ‘‘Will she decide not to have the baby in a hospital where she can have a safe, happy, healthy delivery?’’

The law took effect July 1 but has not been used yet. Cord blood samples would have to be taken immediately after birth, and the state medical examiner is setting administrative rules for how the blood will be collected and stored.

Megan Comlossy, health policy associate for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said she thinks Mississippi is the first state to enact a law authorizing the collection of blood from the umbilical cord — a painless procedure — to determine paternity.

Advertisement

Bryant’s staff said the idea for the law came from public meetings of the governor’s teen pregnancy prevention task force, which focuses primarily on promoting abstinence.

Statistics put the state’s teen pregnancy rate among the highest in the country. In 2011 — the most recent year for which statistics were 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.

And more than half Mississippi’s 82 counties reported at least one pregnancy by a 10- to 14-year-old girl in 2011, according to an Associated Press analysis of state statistics.

The governor’s staff also said it heard disheartening information from Chancery Judge Janace Harvey Goree, whose district covers four counties in central Mississippi.

Democratic state Representative Adrienne Wooten voted against the bill, saying it will hurt poor women and could lead to a ‘‘fishing expedition to find out who the father is.’’

‘‘I think that that is totally outside the boundaries of what we as a Legislature should be doing,’’ said Wooten.

Loading comments...
You're reading  1 of 5 free articles.
Get UNLIMITED access for only 99¢ per week Subscribe Now >
You're reading1 of 5 free articles.Keep scrolling to see more articles recomended for you Subscribe now
We hope you've enjoyed your 5 free articles.
Continue reading by subscribing to Globe.com for just 99¢.
 Already a member? Log in Home
Subscriber Log In

We hope you've enjoyed your 5 free articles'

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Marketing image of BostonGlobe.com
Already a subscriber?
Your city. Your stories. Your Globe.
Yours FREE for two weeks.
Enjoy free unlimited access to Globe.com for the next two weeks.
Limited time only - No credit card required!
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.
Thanks & Welcome to Globe.com
You now have unlimited access for the next two weeks.
BostonGlobe.com complimentary digital access has been provided to you, without a subscription, for free starting today and ending in 14 days. After the free trial period, your free BostonGlobe.com digital access will stop immediately unless you sign up for BostonGlobe.com digital subscription. Current print and digital subscribers are not eligible for the free trial.