— JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — If a girl younger than 16 gives birth and won't name the father, a new Mississippi law — likely the first of its kind in the country — says authorities must collect umbilical cord blood and run DNA tests to prove paternity as a step toward prosecuting statutory rape cases.
Supporters say the law is intended to chip away at Mississippi's teen pregnancy rate, which has long been one of the highest in the nation. But critics say that though the procedure is painless, it invades the medical privacy of the mother, father and baby. And questions abound: At roughly $1,000 a pop, who will pay for the DNA tests in the country's poorest state? Even after test results arrive, can prosecutors compel a potential father to submit his own DNA and possibly implicate himself in a crime? How long will the state keep the DNA on file?
Republican Gov. Phil Bryant says the DNA tests could lead to prosecution of grown men who have sex with underage girls.
"It is to stop children from being raped," said Bryant, who started his career as a deputy sheriff in the 1970s. "One of the things that go on in this state that's always haunted me when I was a law-enforcement officer is seeing the 14- and 15-year-old girl that is raped by the neighbor next door and down the street."
But Bear Atwood, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, said it's an invasion of privacy to collect cord blood without consent of the mother, father and baby. She also said that an underage girl who doesn't want to reveal the identity of her baby's father might skip prenatal care: "Will she decide not to have the baby in a hospital where she can have a safe, happy, healthy delivery?"