News Law and Policy

Mississippi, Virginia Bills Target Teen Sexuality

Emily Crockett

A bill in Mississippi would restrict teens' access to emergency contraception, while proposed legislation in Virginia forbids teens from having oral or anal sex.

State legislators in Mississippi and Virginia have introduced bills on emergency contraception and sodomy, respectively, that would challenge existing protections of teenagers’ reproductive health rights.

Mississippi’s HB 29 would require anyone under the age of 18 to get a prescription for emergency contraception, which flies in the face of federal policy. The Food and Drug Administration last summer approved the emergency contraceptive pill Plan B One-Step to be sold over the counter with no age restrictions.

Virginia’s SB 14 would partially revive the state’s “crimes against nature” law that federal courts found unconstitutional in March. The effect of that law would be to prohibit teenagers from having consensual oral or anal sex, and treat those sex acts differently from vaginal intercourse.

The sponsors of both bills have a well-established anti-choice record. Mississippi state Rep. Sam Mims (R-McComb) sponsored legislation in 2012 that threatened the last remaining abortion clinic in the state, while Virginia state Sen. Thomas Garrett (R-Lynchburg) ran as a “Cuccinelli conservative” and vowed to be the most conservative candidate in the field.

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Former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli fought to keep the “crimes against nature” law on the books, but the courts struck the law down on 14th Amendment grounds because it criminalized private, noncommercial adult sexual contact. To try to get around the court’s ruling, Garrett’s law would exempt consenting adults who are not in a public place or involved in prostitution—meaning that 15- to 17-year-olds could not have consensual oral or anal sex at all, whether it was with another 15- to 17-year-old or with an adult. This would create a strange situation in Virginia law wherein 16-year-olds could marry but become felons if they had oral sex, and adults would be felons for merely asking 16-year-olds for oral sex, but only receive a misdemeanor charge for actually having vaginal sex with a 16-year-old.

Oklahoma enacted a law similar to Mississippi’s bill, which requires anyone under the age of 17 to obtain a prescription to access emergency contraception. That law is being challenged in court. Mississippi’s proposed law would go even further to restrict access because it requires valid identification and affects anyone under the age of 18.

The Virginia bill is unlikely to become law with pro-choice Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe in office, but it is yet another sign that the mindset of McAuliffe’s opponent Cucinnelli lives on in the legislature.

The Mississippi bill may fare better given the state’s anti-choice government, and would further threaten women’s already inconsistent access to emergency contraception.

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