Will California's HPV vaccine law encourage kids to have sex?

Conservative groups charge that giving teens the vaccine without telling their parents is irresponsible. Public health advocates insist it saves lives

A Gardasil HPV vaccine
(Image credit: Mick Tsikas/epa/Corbis)

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is facing angry criticism from religious groups this week, after signing a law allowing girls as young as 12 to get the vaccine for the potentially cancer-causing human papillomavirus (HPV) without parental consent. Public health officials say this will slow the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, but conservative opponents say it tramples parents' rights and tricks girls into thinking sex is risk-free. Is California's vaccine law encouraging kids to have sex, or saving their lives?

This irresponsible law encourages risky behavior: Children can't "be given as much as an aspirin in school" without their parents' approval, says Teresa Tomeo at Christian Newswire. How can California think it's OK to give them something as controversial as the HPV vaccine? This is like passing out "filtered cigarettes or light beer" in P.E. It puts a healthy veneer on something that encourages teens to "engage in unsafe behavior."

"New California law frightens bestselling author Teresa Tomeo"

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This isn't comparable to handing out birth-control pills: If you want to argue that parents deserve to be notified, I'm all ears, says Cathy O'Connell at U.S. Catholic. But it's "ridiculous" and dangerous to reject the shots because you think they tell teens, "Go have sex" the way distributing birth-control pills does. The vaccine protects girls "whether they have sex for the first time at 16 or 36." If you deny your daughter the shots, and she has sex for the first time on her wedding night, gets infected, and develops cervical cancer, it will be your fault.

"Can we please stop equating the HPV vaccine with permission to have teen sex?"

Children's health is what really matters: Parents should be responsible for talking with their kids about health and sexuality, says Martha Kempner at RH Reality Check. But "we all know that some parents fall down on this job." Most teens become sexually active in high school and just can't talk about it with their parents. The first priority should be getting them "potentially life-saving prevention services" — then we can worry about getting them to talk with their parents.

"California allows young people to access the HPV vaccine without parental consent"

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