Mississippi Will Require DNA Testing On Babies Born To Underage Girls To Find Fathers

Mississippi Will Require Cord Blood Testing From Babies Born to Girls Under 16
Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant said that even if a teenager consents to sex,too many of them are becoming pregnant against their will. The new law going into effect next month will try to discourage teen pregnancy. Klaus Hoffmeier

Starting July 1, doctors and midwives in Mississippi will be obligated to take umbilical cord blood samples from babies born to some women under the age of 16. The new law is intended to discourage older men from having sex with teenagers and also to track down statutory rapists. No other state in the country has implemented a law like it, according to Kaiser Health News.

If a child is born to a woman under 16 years old, officials will try to match cord blood DNA to men in the state's DNA database. The law is supported by Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant, who believes it's necessary to protect younger women from being victimized by older men. He said that even if the woman consents to sex, too many of them are becoming pregnant against their will.

"It is a tragedy that I think has been accepted over the years where people say the young girl agreed to it so we have to accept it. And that has got to stop," he told Kaiser.

Lawmakers responsible for drafting the legislation believe it will at least deter older men from having sex with younger women.  

"It is our hope that we can deter men over the age of 21 from having sex, particularly with girls 16 years and younger, particularly if they know we are going to pursue them," Jim Hood, the state's Democratic attorney general, said.

Republican State Rep. Andy Gipson also helped draft the legislation. He said he wants to help find "who harmed that child," because new mothers often keep the identity of the baby's father secret.

The legislation will prosecute anyone who is more than three years older than the girl, until she is 16 years old, which is the legal age of consent in Mississippi. However, it is still unclear who would prosecute the men if they are located. Even then, prosecutors would have to figure out where the baby was conceived in order to file charges.

Although the legislation has no opposition, the state medical association asked lawmakers to remove a provision that included penalties for doctors who might not abide by the law.

Jamie Holcomb-Bardwell, director of programs for the Women's Fund of Mississippi, believes the legislation's focus is misdirected, saying that few teen pregnancies involve very young girls and much older men.

"It is a lot easier for politicians to talk about protecting young women than it is for them to talk about adequate sex education, access to contraception, looking at multi-generational poverty, making sure we have an adequately funded education system," she said. "All of these things have been shown to decrease the teen pregnancy rate."

Mississippi's teen birth rate has already dropped to a near 40 year low, as with rest of the country's teen pregnancy rates. However it is still 60 percent above the national average. Of the 6,100 births in 2012, 111 babies were born to mothers under 15 years old.  

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