Two important bills are pending in Congress: the Child Custody Protection Act and the Title X Parental Notification Act. While brief and uncomplicated, they expose a rift at the fault line dividing American society. The bills rest on a simple truth: You can't get a life, and you can't get on in life, without parents. Although this reality is an enduring source of embarrassment to most teenagers, there's no escaping it. Much as teens chafe under their parents' control, values, advice, probing questions, and even their proximity in public, the parent-child relationship is an immutable feature of the human condition.

Children need two decades, more or less, of love, education, training, discipline, and experience to be able to function independently of parents and make sound decisions concerning their lives. Throughout this formative period, parents have the right and duty to guide their children well. This last proposition should hardly be controversial. For centuries, all sorts of rights flowing from the parent-child relationship have been acknowledged and protected by law, among them decisions concerning custody, education, and medical care.

Any mom and dad who has had to provide a school nurse with written permission just to see that their child gets a midday dose of an over-the-counter medication might think that parents have adequate control over medical care. But they would be mistaken. There's one large and hazardous exception, thanks to a quiet transformation in the law at the hands of activists who have been trying to liberate American culture from traditional (“religious”) values.

When it comes to sex — the prevention and “treatment” of pregnancy and the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) — it seems neither mother nor father knows best. Arecent issue of Time magazine implies that such issues are best left to experts like Planned Parenthood, the abortion industry, and their whole network of sympathetic educators, counselors, and lawyers. These groups have systematically eliminated parental “obstacles” along the pathway of youngsters wanting to be sexually active.

Kids want to avoid pregnancy and STDs, those double whammys of teen sex that used to be red flags for parents? No problem. Your school or neighborhood clinic offers free condoms and prescriptions for the Pill. No questions asked.

Oops, caught a STD anyway? Your parents don't have to know. We'll treat you confidentially at government expense.

Aw, the contraceptives failed and now you're pregnant and need to dispose of the evidence before your parents find out? You bring the cash and we'll take care of the problem.

Your state has a parental notice or consent law? Well, we can walk you through the judicial bypass or, even easier, drive you into the next state where abortion clinics advertise “no parental consent needed.” We do that for thousands of girls every year.

Parents aren't left completely out of the picture. They are encouraged, of course, to become involved in caring for their children afflicted with AIDS, as well as in post-abortion medical complications like uterine punctures, blood clots, hemorrhaging, suicide attempts and the like.

What the current scheme amounts to is nothing short of a conspiracy to keep parents in the dark about their minor children's sexual exploits, abuse, diseases and “unforeseen complications,” such as pregnancy. Yet polls consistently show overwhelming (85%) support for parental notice-consent laws regarding minors' abortions. More than 20 states have enacted such laws to ensure that parents are able to exercise their right and duty to assist a minor daughter in pregnancy-related decisions, and to protect her, if a bit belatedly, from abuse and coercion by the baby's father or third parties. Recent studies reveal that about two-thirds of pregnant single teens are impregnated by predatory adult males, seven years older on average than the girls involved.

The Title X Parental Notification Act would lift the blanket of confidentiality surrounding prescription drugs and devices given minor children for the purpose of contraception and the treatment of STDs. Title X-funded family planning clinics would be required to notify parents five business days before their unmarried minor child receives such a prescription.

Many contraceptive drugs and devices pose serious health risks. They also give children a false sense of security, thus encouraging risky and immoral behavior. The abortion industry admits that 56% of women seeking abortion were using a contraceptive in the month they became pregnant. The epidemic of STDs (including incurable and fatal STDs) proves that contraceptives offer little or no protection against many such afflictions.

Moreover, confidentiality abets child abusers like the Crystal Lake (Ill.) teacher convicted last year of criminal sexual assault for his 18-month affair with a 14-year-old student. He had taken her routinely to a local Title X clinic for injections of Depo- Provera, a powerful hormonal contraceptive. The bill would require Title X clinics to comply with state reporting laws concerning child abuse, child molestation, sexual abuse, rape, and incest and end clinics' complicity in these crimes.

It's time for a reality check. Parents must be trusted to protect their minor children from the many dreadful consequences of the promiscuous lifestyle they are being encouraged to follow. These two bills are small, but necessary, steps to reverse the erosion of parental rights.

Susan Wills is assistant director for program development for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.