Today happens to be my 21st birthday. Please be thankful that I have spent some of it writing this column instead of dragging myself to Ted’s… or worse.
Speaking of birthdays, a recent recall-surviving California governor has signed a bill with major implications for those who’ve yet to reach their 18th birthday. The bill, formally known as Assembly Bill (AB) 1184, prohibits insurance providers from disclosing the details of any “sensitive health care services” received by minors — such as abortions and gender-affirming hormonal therapy — from insurance policy holders such as parents or spouses.
AB 1184 was sponsored by District 17 Assemblyman David Chiu, a Democrat representing eastern San Francisco. The California State Senate and Assembly passed the bill on Sept. 8 and 9, respectively, while Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed it into law on Wednesday, Sept. 22.
To be clear, this column will not take a stance on general abortion policy. The fact remains that the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision outlines the fundamental right of any woman in the United States to terminate her pregnancy. Whether I am (or you are) personally pro-choice or pro-life is irrelevant to the clear caveats within this legislation.
Still, the reactions from both sides of the political aisle are important to consider. Progressives and groups such as Planned Parenthood have cheered the passage of AB 1184 as a necessary step in expanding a protected right to teenagers. Religious conservatives and other abortion opponents have characterized it as “the left’s latest attack on families.” Ultimately, both approaches miss the reality: AB 1184 is an infringement upon the rights of healthcare consumers across California.
I have several objections to this new law. Perhaps most obviously, it centers around underaged girls. These “girls” are legally distinct from the adult “woman” referenced in precedent in Roe v. Wade. Referring to someone as a “woman” implies independence, while calling them a “girl” implies dependency. By definition, a dependent must be covered by the health insurance plan of a parent or legal guardian.
This legal interpretation also applies to boys and non-binary children, but AB 1184 does not use gender-specific language. Instead, it uses the term “protected individual” to describe a child incapable of managing their own healthcare plan.
This idea is hardly revolutionary; in fact, it has been reflected in our national healthcare policy for at least a decade. Passed in 2010 by a Democratic Congress under President Barack Obama, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires healthcare providers to make coverage available until dependents reach age 26.
Despite the ACA’s obvious benefits for children and young adults, it comes with one obvious drawback. Imagine, for example, Jonathan: a married 25-year-old man who has chain-smoked since middle school. Jonathan has lived with his wife and supported himself since age 18. Despite his wife’s objections, Jonathan’s smoking lands him in the hospital requiring a rare lung surgery. Now, the couple must default on their home loans to pay his medical bills, until magically, Jonthan’s parents’ insurance plan (which he is still on), decides to cover the cost. And, since Jonathan is an adult, he does not have to disclose any medical records to his parents — who are understandably furious and confused as to why their premiums have increased.
This very principle is my greatest objection to AB 1184. Just as Jonathan’s parents bear the burden of his misfortune, the parents of children who receive abortions without their knowledge or consent may wonder why their healthcare premiums became more expensive.
Additionally, many insurance plans do not cover pediatric abortions because they are so uncommon. This makes the situation even worse for children who try to navigate our complicated medical system without guidance to undergo a completely preventable procedure.
I use the term “preventable” not because I am unsympathetic to unwanted child pregnancy, but because California law formally maintains that these conceptions should not exist. The state’s age of consent is 18, so anyone who engages in sex with a minor (including another minor) is committing statutory rape.
In other words, the California Assembly seems to be sending the following message to children by passing AB 1184: “It is illegal for you to have sex in our state. But if you decide to do it anyway and conceive a child, you can now use another law we passed to expand your rights beyond your parents’ healthcare plan.”
Practically speaking, AB 1184 is unlikely to be very consequential. Thanks to improved sex education and contraceptive accessibility, teen abortion rates in the U.S. have been dropping for quite some time. Gone are the days of risky, under-the-table abortions like the one obtained by 15-year-old “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” protagonist Stacy Hamilton.
However, with the lack of adult oversight enabled by AB 1184, I find myself worried about the fundamental rights of every healthcare consumer in California. In the spirit of “Fast Times,” I worry that it could create many more Stacy Hamiltons.