The Virginia House of Delegates killed legislation that would have banned the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) staff from reaching out to minors about topics including sex, family matters, and unwanted pregnancy without parents’ permission. On Thursday, the Health, Welfare, and Institutions Committee voted to table SB 1235 after it passed in the Senate with narrow bipartisan support.
“This a parental rights [bill],” SB 1235 sponsor Senator Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg) said in subcommittee on January 28. “It just says that before anyone can contact our children anonymously, that they have to get parents’ permission.”
Peake said the bill was focused specifically on sex and family-matters related topics. He said, “What has happened is the Department of Health put out these flyers to encourage third-party people to talk to children about those issues.”
“They sent out a flyer that encouraged kids to call in about sexual matters,” Peake said. “If the teens text in to that line, they are then contacted anonymously by a third-party group that’s contracted by the VDH without any parental permission.”
“These are minors, and they’re not getting parental permission,” he said.
A Family Foundation photo shows one of the postcards which states, “Have a questions about Birds ‘N’ BZ? Use a free and anonymous sexual health textline for teens. Get answers about relationships, contraception, sex, pregnancy, STIs, sexuality + more!”
The VDH has discontinued the program, citing a lack of cost effectiveness, but the VDH website promotes several other similar anonymous resources for teens, including a hotline powered by Planned Parenthood.
Virginia Society for Human Life President Olivia Turner said the hotline was an effort to avoid legally-required parental involvement in abortions with minors.
“We have a parental consent law in Virginia with regard to a minor girl getting access to an abortion,” Turner said. “This was clearly an effort to undermine that, because some of the links in the hotline directed minors to organizations that openly discussed how to get around laws in your state on issues like that.”
“Agencies like the [VDH], the Governor’s councils on these sort of things, all of these are programs are political,” Turner said. “Individuals who serve on these committees are appointed by the administration, they serve a term, and if a pro-abortion person is in the governor’s mansion, that is a direction we will continue to see ourselves going.”
Delegate Kathy Byron (R-Bedford) sponsored a bill similar to Peake, but her bill, HB 2084 was killed earlier in a Health, Welfare and Institutions subcommittee. Legislators were concerned by how broad Byron’s bill was. Byron’s bill bans VDH staff from speaking directly to children on any health matter without parental permission.
VDH spokesperson Heather Board told the subcommittee on January 26, “As written, there would be a substantial impact on a multitude of public health programs [including] COVID-19 efforts, youth suicide prevention, skin cancer prevention, childhood obesity, to just identify a few.”
When she introduced her bill, Byron told the subcommittee, “HB 2084 would require the Department of Health and local health departments to adhere to the same parental notifications that we currently require of our public schools.”
“Grooming by sexual predators is predicated on minors keeping potential inappropriate interactions with others from their parents. parents warn their children not to connect with strangers,” she said.
“The program contracted by VDH emulated this practice,” Byron said. “This highlighted a real problem that can occur with future programs. So after hearing from the Department of Health, I went online and noticed that they had an announcement on there that they are no longer doing the sex texting line but they also refer youth to a couple of different websites.”
“I believe that this bill will restore and protect the involvement of parents in the lives of their children, applying the same stand of consent that we already do with minors and rebuild confidence for parents that government protects their rights.”
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