- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2014

A traditional values group in Virginia is sounding an alarm over a legal opinion that says some underage pregnancies do not have to be reported to child welfare or law enforcement officials.

“The mere knowledge that a child between 13 and 15 is or was pregnant is, without more evidence, insufficient to trigger the reporting responsibility,” Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring recently wrote to Dr. Marissa J. Levine, commissioner of the Virginia Department of Health.

The response clarified that hospital-licensing inspectors who find that “prenatal or abortion services” have been given to a girl younger than 15 do not have to report it to social workers or police — unless a parent or caregiver is suspected of abuse or neglect in the case.

Mr. Herring’s legal opinion sparked outrage from the Family Foundation in Virginia, who interpreted it as a loophole to avoid reporting suspected cases of child sexual abuse, especially by nonfamily members.

“This opinion undermining our statutory rape and mandatory reporting laws should shock any reasonable person,” said Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation of Virginia. “If Virginians wondered just how far Mark Herring would go to protect Virginia’s abortion industry, they now have the answer.”

Foundation spokesman Chris Freund said Friday they have been hearing privately from state lawmakers who are “pretty furious” and intend to take action in January.

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“They’ll do whatever it takes to make sure this gets corrected,” he said.

Virginia law says it is a crime to “have carnal knowledge of a child between the ages of 13 and 15.”

In his legal opinion, which was sent to Dr. Levine on Sept. 12 but made public only recently, Mr. Herring, a Democrat, agreed that nurses who perform hospital licensing inspections and review patients’ medical records are mandatory reporters for child abuse or neglect.

“Clearly, with respect to a 14-year-old who is pregnant, a sexual act upon a child was committed in violation” of the law, Mr. Herring wrote.

But “this fact alone, without additional information or evidence, is not sufficient to create a reason to suspect that the child is an ‘abused or neglected child’ within the meaning” of the law, he wrote. “There must also be some evidence or information that the unlawful sexual act was committed or allowed to be committed by the child’s parents or other person responsible for the child’s care.”

Without such details regarding the child’s pregnancy, “there is no duty to report” the incident, he said.

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Moreover, Mr. Herring said, previous legal opinions issued in 2001 and 2003 — which required reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect regardless of whether the suspected perpetrator was a parent/caregiver — are out of step with “long-standing rules of statutory construction and are hereby overruled.”

According to the Family Foundation, a state inspection has found several cases of abortions to minors, including one case involving a 14-year-old girl. The organization has been seeking information about whether the 14-year-old’s parents’ consent was obtained and whether the abortion was reported as abuse or a crime.

Virginia’s Interstate 81 corridor near Roanoke is “a zone known for sex trafficking,” the foundation said.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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