Abigail English

A Pioneer From the Beginning

Abigail English: A Pioneer From the Beginning

If you were looking for one adjective to describe Abigail English, “prolific” might be a good choice. Others have called her soft-spoken, and she once self-titled herself as a “romantic revolutionary.”

Whatever adjective you decide upon, her dedication to adolescent health and the law is indisputable.

English’s career spans 20 years as the Director of the National Center for Youth Law in San Francisco, 10 years as Director of the Center for Adolescent Health & the Law, and a one-year term as president of the Society for Adolescent Medicine. She has contributed to research on adolescents’ access to comprehensive health care, health insurance and public financing of care for adolescents and young adults, consent and confidentiality protections, and sexual and reproductive health care.

Graduating college in 1960’s, her first job focused on a nonprofit that helped street youth and runaways. English said in an interview with the American Bar Association:

That exposure to the way in which adolescents encountered the legal system when they ran away from home, made me very aware of the fact that there were serious deficiencies in how young people were treated by the law.

She realized quickly that more advocacy was needed in this area:

I very quickly realized that when teenagers can’t get health care, they don’t talk to lawyers. They don’t go to the legal aid office. When they need health care, they either go to a clinic, or go to a doctor’s office, or they don’t get care at all. So I realized as a lawyer working on legal issues that affected adolescents’ access to health care, it would be very important to partner with the community of health care and medical professionals.

Due to the legal gap that exists with consent and confidential services, English has made the subject of consent and confidentiality one of her key tenants of advocacy. In the 1960’s and 70’s, the first state and federal laws were passed to give adolescents some rights to confidential health care without parental permission.

I think that intuitively a lot of people say, ‘Well, I have to give permission for my daughter to get her ears pierced. Why shouldn’t I have to give permission for her to get health care services? Why shouldn’t I be able to know about all of the information concerning whatever health care services she gets?

Studies show that young people often hesitate to get certain types of medical care, such as mental and behavioral health care, birth control and sexual health screenings, because they don’t want their parents to find out through insurance statements.

In her article “Confidentiality for Individuals Insured as Dependents: A Review of State Laws and Policies“, English found that billing and insurance claims-processing procedures —most notably, the practice of sending explanation of benefits forms (EOBs) to a policyholder whenever care is provided under his or her policy —routinely violated confidentiality. According to English, the issue is getting more attention now due to the ACA and increased number of dependents.

Abigail English: Keynote Speaker at The Power of Partnerships Conference

Abigail English will dive into these topics as the keynote speaker at The Power of Partnerships Conference on October 12th-13th, at the Amway Grand Plaza in Grand Rapids, MI. You will have the opportunity to interact with her in person about the challenges of consent and confidential services.

Register for the Conference 

More about Abigail English:

Radcliff Magazine: Evolution of an Advocate

American Bar Association: Abigail English – A Pioneer in Health Care for Teens

Confidentiality for Individuals Insured as Dependents: A Review of State Laws and Policies – Abigail English, Rachel Benson Gold, Elizabeth Nash and Jane Levine

Abigail English testifies to Congress on Human Trafficking issues:

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