Niki Kelly: Republicans champion parental rights, except when they don’t


By Nita Kelly

Guest columnist

One of these things is not like the others,

One of these things just doesn’t belong,

Can you tell which thing is not like the others

By the time I finish my song?

The old Muppets song comes to mind when considering the issue of parental rights in the Indiana General Assembly this session. We have heard it over and over in bill after bill.

For instance, parental concerns led to language in House Bill 1635 to separate vaccine records from high school transcripts.

Senate Bill 321 was originally filed — and amended last week — to require a parent give consent for the student to receive services at a school-based health center. It also requires the parent be present at the time the student receives services.

Senate Bill 12 empowers parents to object to “inappropriate” materials in schools — not just obscenity.

Heck, House Bill 1407 had an entire preamble about parental rights (though it has died).

“The state of Indiana, a political subdivision or other governmental entity of the state of Indiana, a government official or any other person acting under the color of law shall not infringe on the fundamental right of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, health care and mental health of the parent’s child without demonstrating that the infringement (1) is required by a compelling governmental interest of the highest order as long recognized in the history and traditions of the state of Indiana; and (2) as applied to the parent and the child is narrowly tailored and not otherwise served by a less restrictive means.”

But Republicans pushing these bills haven’t always been consistent. That’s because they are also ignoring or taking away parental choice in several cases.

For instance, under House Bill 1608, a parent who has accepted a child’s gender identity must give their explicit consent to change the child’s name or pronouns. But the legislation goes on to say that school staff can ignore the request of the parent and can’t be disciplined for identifying a student consistent with the student’s legal name.

But the biggest example of spurning parental choice and rights is Senate Bill 480, which eliminates the right of a parent to direct the medical care of their minor child. But only if the child is transgender.

A parent can still consent to puberty blockers or hormone therapy for another medical diagnosis. But not if the same medications or therapy are used to help their child with gender transition.

In the General Assembly, Indiana lawmakers trust parents to choose their child’s school, waive vaccination requirements and consent to all other medical care.

And I have yet to see a good explanation for this contradiction.

When Sen. Tyler Johnson, R-Leo — the author of the ban on transgender minor care — was asked about parental consent, he said, “I’m not here to attack parents. We have the medical, moral and legal obligation to protect Hoosier children, and that’s where I’ll leave that at.”

Rep. Renee Pack, D-Indianapolis, got to the heart of the matter on the House floor last week, saying Hoosiers are confused by the differing stances. She said there are times when lawmakers want to listen to parents and protect their rights and “there are times when we want to say, ‘Listen to us. We know better than doctors.’”

I have a daughter myself and believe parental rights are important and should be protected. But it appears that only goes so far. Because parents making informed decisions in consultation with their child and medical professionals are being second-guessed by the state of Indiana.

One could argue a parent who refuses to immunize their children is hurting the child. But I don’t see a bill outlawing that decision.

Consistency is key in these types of debates, and Senate Bill 480 doesn’t match the parents rights rhetoric.

Niki Kelly is editor-in-chief of, where this commentary first appeared. She has covered Indiana politics and the Indiana Statehouse since 1999 for publications, including the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette. Send comments to [email protected].

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