Invasion of privacy isn’t the answer to teen pregnancy

Mississippi has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the nation, and the state has several good reasons for wanting to address this problem – especially when the girl is underage and the father is an adult man. In addition to protecting teenage girls from statutory rape and sexual exploitation, the state has a financial interest in finding the father so that he can contribute financially to the cost of caring for the child so not all of the cost is passed onto taxpayers.

While all of this is good, violating Constitutional rights through invasive demands by government is not the answer. It is one thing to require testing of umbilical cord blood for public health reasons, but to do so for the purposes of a criminal investigation (especially without the consent of the mother) raises civil liberties concerns. Furthermore, a warrant would be necessary to get blood from the alleged father.

Furthermore, once the DNA test is taken, how long will the DNA be kept on file? Does the state have carte blanche to test the DNA against DNA found with other crimes whenever they want, whether or not there is reasonable suspicion (or a search warrant) that the alleged father has committed a crime?

One of the most disturbing aspects of the law is that it declares it is reasonable to suspect a sex crime has been committed if (among other things) “the identified father disputes paternity.” What if the identified father never had sex with the girl and she is pointing the finger at him to “protect” the real culprit? Is a denial of guilt when accused of a crime now reasonable suspicion that someone has actually committed a crime?

Men who sexually exploit underage teenage girls need to be punished to the fullest extent of the law for their crimes, and they must be required to financially support the offspring they created in the commission of the crime of statutory rape – and they should have no right to visitation or custody unless the mother and her parents approve. But as important as it is to hold these men accountable, we must do so in a way that protects civil liberties and does not present the opportunity for abuse of power by government.