updated 1/18/2005 4:01:28 PM ET 2005-01-18T21:01:28

Laws that would require parents to be notified when teens seek birth control would do little to curb underage sex and could cause a troubling number of girls to engage in unsafe intercourse, a survey of teens in 33 states suggests.

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Nearly one in five teen girls surveyed at federally funded family planning clinics nationwide said they would either use no birth control or unreliable methods, and only 7 percent said they
would stop having sex if parental-notification laws were enacted, according to the study by The Alan Guttmacher Institute, an advocacy group that supports reproductive choice.

The results, based on responses from 1,526 girls under the age of 18 who were given anonymous questionnaires, echo smaller, more local studies.

The study appears in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

Obtaining contraceptive prescriptions was the most common reason for the girls' visits to the clinics, but other reasons included pregnancy testing and Pap tests, said Guttmacher researcher Rachel Jones.

Sixty percent said their parents knew about the visits, and 59 percent said they would continue to seek contraception at the clinic even if parental-notification laws were enacted.

However, 18 percent said they would avoid birth control or would use the rhythm or withdrawal methods during sex, which are far less reliable than contraceptives. The result likely would be an increase in unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, Jones said.

Forty-six percent of girls said they would use over-the-counter methods such as condoms instead of prescription birth control if such laws were enacted.

Parental-notification proposals that would affect federally funded clinics have been repeatedly introduced in Congress in the past few years. Local laws requiring at least some minors seeking prescription contraceptives are already in place in Texas, Utah and at least one county in Illinois, Guttmacher Institute research shows.

Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America, a group that supports abstinence and parental notification, called the study misleading and "an attempt to manipulate public policy."

Abstinence is more effective than birth control at avoiding "all the problems" associated with teen sex, including disease risk, pregnancy and too-early emotional attachment, Wright said.

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