DC Council Would Discard Constitution, End Parents’ Rights

On October 20 the District of Columbia Council voted 12-1 to adopt a measure that would flout existing Supreme Court precedent and end parental rights regarding a minor’s healthcare.

Bill 23-171 is scheduled for a second reading and vote in the council on November 10. If it passes again, it then faces Mayoral review and a 30-day congressional review before it becomes DC law. Given the current over-whelming support, the bill is likely to pass the second vote. A mayoral veto, if there were one, would likely be overridden. But congressional rejection of the bill would still kill it out-right.

That’s where you and I come in.

A Dangerous Bill

For nearly 100 years, consistent Supreme Court precedent has held that parents have both the duty and the right to direct the care, custody, and control of their minor children. But Bill 23-171, proposed by Councilwoman Cheh and cosponsored by a majority of the council, would defy that precedent, stripping parents not only of the authority to make a decision, but even to know about the decision being made.

The bill, proposed October 7 in the Committee on Health, would declare, “A minor, eleven years of age or older, may consent to receive a vaccine where the minor is capable of meeting the informed consent standard, and the vaccine is recommended by the United States Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP)…”

To meet the “informed consent standard,” the bill says the minor must be “able to comprehend the needs for, the nature of, and any significant risks ordinarily inherent in the medical care.”

But nowhere does the bill indicate who determines if the child is able to comprehend these factors. It is a safe bet it isn’t going to be the child’s parent.

Contrary to the Constitution

Such a provision flies in the face of existing Supreme Court precedent, specifically on the issue of adolescent care and informed consent.

In its 1979 Parham v. J.R. decision, the Supreme Court declared:

 “Simply because the decision of a parent is not agreeable to a child, or because it involves risks, does not automatically transfer the power to make that decision from the parents to some agency or officer of the state. The same characterizations can be made for a tonsillectomy, appendectomy, or other medical procedure. Most children, even in adolescence, simply are not able to make sound judgments concerning many decisions, including their need for medical care or treatment. Parents can and must make those judgments.”

Bill 23-171, which flies in the face of this very clear ruling, would necessarily be unconstitutional as a result. Through this bill, the council would make the vaccine decision, overruling fit and loving parents—and hide from the parents what has been done!

And make no mistake. It is the council making the decision, not the 11-year-old child. If the bill were handing authority to the child, it would permit any decision, including that of a child to opt out of immunizations whose parents wanted the child inoculated. This bill only empowers one action: for a child to receive a vaccine which the government says is best for the child and which the parent says is not.

The court in Parham continued, “The fact that a child may balk at hospitalization or complain about a parental refusal to provide cosmetic surgery does not diminish the parents’ authority to decide what is best for the child. Neither state officials nor federal courts are equipped to review such parental decisions”(Internal citations omitted, emphasis added).

Yet, under Bill 23-171, the DC Council would take that authority for itself.

Sneaking Around to the Child’s Detriment

Shockingly, this unconstitutional (and unconscionable) usurpation of parental authority is not the only concern we have with the bill.

Bill 23-171 also contains deeply disturbing provisions to keep the vaccination a secret from the parents.

First, the bill specifies that, although providers shall seek reimbursement from the insurer without parental consent, they “shall not send an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) for services provided” under the bill. In other words, the parents’ insurance will have to pay for the shot, but the parent will receive no notice of the charge.

Second, the bill would require falsifying the child’s medical records regarding the vaccination. Specifically, the bill requires a health care provider administering the vaccines to “leave the immunization record in Part 3 blank, and…submit the immunization record directly to the minor’s school.”

So the child’s medical record (which parents can often read) will not show the immunization; but that secret will be held at the child’s school. Then the schools are instructed to “keep this immunization record confidential, except it may share the record with the Department of Health or the school-based health center.”

So your insurance carrier, a medical provider, and your child’s school can know your child’s immunization history, but you cannot. Good luck providing the ER doctor with the best information in the event your child is ever in a life-threatening accident.

Not about the Vaccines

Now, I understand there is a lot of disagreement even among parental rights supporters when it comes to vaccines. ParentalRights.org has no medical position on the safety or efficacy of the vaccines involved in this bill.

Rather, we hold unswervingly to the belief that fit and loving parents are the best people to make informed medical decisions on behalf of their children. Not judges. Not teachers. Not doctors. Not the minor children themselves.

And certainly not the DC Council.

If we lose the authority as parents to make these decisions because vaccines are a hot-button topic right now, what parenting decision will be next? If the government establishes that it can override a parent’s wishes by citing a government review board and “allowing” a minor to make the government-approved decision (only), soon every “parenting” decision will be subject to just this kind of rule.

No, this is not about the vaccines. This is about who will make medical decisions for your minor children—you, or the government.

Standing Up for Parental Rights

Based on the Parham ruling, there is no conceivable way Bill 23-171 could survive a constitutional challenge. Yet, with twelve out of 13 council members voting in favor of the bill, its passage November 10 is all but assured.

We must call on Congress to take a stand.

If you live in the District of Columbia, take a moment today to contact your councilmembers and urge them to oppose this bill on second reading, even if they voted in favor the first time. Tell them it would defy the constitutional right of parents to make informed medical decisions for their own children. Tell them you know they’re not giving any power to children except to make the one choice the council has approved.

You can find your DC Councilmember’s contact information here.

If you don’t live in DC, you cannot affect the council vote directly. Instead, we must prepare to call on Congress in the coming days or weeks.

And we must be vigilant for any similar measure to be introduced in your state this January.

Setting aside your vaccines view for a moment if necessary, educate yourself on this issue. This is about the authority of parents to know about, let alone make, medical decisions for their child.

Then, educate those around you. Warn them of this dangerous DC bill, and show them the lengths some localities will go to to rob parents of their rightful authority.

And be prepared to answer the call to oppose such bills. When Bill 23-171 goes to Congress, or if this issue pops up in your state, we will let you know. Then it’s up to you to contact your lawmakers and make sure these unconstitutional power grabs never see the light of day.

Finally, if you are able, give today to ParentalRights.org so that we can remain vigilant and get word to you when it is needed.

Thank you for standing with us against overreach in its many forms, to protect children by empowering the fit parents who know and love them best.


Michael Ramey
Executive Director