A Minor Change For Lofty Goals

May 24, 2019

Illinois lawmakers have agreed to make a change to the state's minor consent law for health care services. The current statute allows children 12 and up access to diagnosis and treatment options for sexually transmitted infections and HIV, but not preventative healthcare or counseling. A proposal, that now heads to Gov. J.B. Pritzker's desk, would ensure youth also have access to preventions options without parental consent.  

State Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago) explained the goal of the measure is to decrease the transmission of HIV in youth by giving them access to Pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. He said this medication is critical to "ending the HIV epidemic." 

"PrEP is a way for people who do not have HIV, but who are at substantial risk of getting it, to prevent HIV infection by taking one pill every day," he said. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017, young gay and bisexual men accounted for more than 80 percent of new HIV cases in people aged 13 to 24. Overall, new HIV cases across the country are declining, but cases for black and Hispanic men who have sex with men have been on the rise. 

Since the proposal targets young people, being able to pay for the drug is an important component. Sen. Peters said the Illinois Department of Public Health has recently launched "PrEP for Illinois." This is an assistance program that offers tailored PrEP services, like education and payment assistance programs. 

"Without allowing youth access to prevention services like PrEP, the cost of the state ends up being much more over these young peoples' lifetimes," he said. It's much more expensive to pay for a lifetime treatment of HIV than to pay for a prevention program." 

State Sen. Dan McConchie (R-Hawthorn Woods) argued minors cannot consent to sex until the age of 17, so this proposal would allow them access to services for "something that they cannot legally do." 

"Under the current law, we are allowing for treatment for activity that's already occurred," he said. "This is for prevention. This is for future activity that is not allowed under Illinois law." 

State Sen. Linda Holmes (D-Aurora) said she was appalled by McConchie's argument, calling it judgmental and out of touch. She said it's the responsible choice to prevent HIV and other infections from spreading instead of assuming kids are not having sex. 

"I'm going to dare say that most in this chamber were not of adult age or married when they had sex," Holmes said. "Now, please don't give me the details; I don't want to know. But stop passing judgement on that narrow, Puritan, archaic way of thinking. And let's do what is right." 

Some Republican lawmakers were also concerned over the broad language in the measure that extends these services to youth without the consent of parents or legal guardians. State Sen. Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo) said this excludes parents from important conversations and choices in the lives of their children. 

"My kids are 11 and 13," he said. "I want them to have everything but I also don't want to be cut out of this process. That's what this bill does."

“You can take my property, you can tax me to death, you can do whatever you want. But, when you say I am not going to be involved in the raising of my kids and giving them the fundamental advice that I think they need, that is something that I object to,” he said.

Sen. Peters argued not all Illinois children have guardians they can turn to. He used his own personal experiences as an example: "When I was 12 years old, my mom was an alcoholic. I could never go home. I couldn't see her. I couldn't trust her... When I was going through things, we couldn't tell my mom what was going on with me. Because sometimes you can't talk to your parents." 

In his first weeks in office, Gov. Pritzker signed an executive order to increase funding for HIV education, testing, and access to PrEP. Last week, he also helped introduce a five-year plan, called "Getting to Zero," that aims to end the HIV epidemic in Illinois by 2030. One major component of that plan is increasing the use of PrEP throughout the state. 

The Governor's Office did not respond for comment on whether or not Pritzker intends to sign the proposal.