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Parental consent/notification for teen abortions:

Introduction

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Overview:

In many areas of the U.S., youths who have not reached their 18th birthday have the right to seek medical and mental health treatment without their parent's or guardians knowledge or consent. According to a statement by the Alan Guttmacher Institute in 2000: "...no state explicitly requires parental consent for contraceptive services; testing or treatment for sexually transmitted diseases including HIV; counseling and medical care for drug and alcohol abuse; or outpatient mental health services. In at least half the states, minors have the explicit authority to consent to contraceptive services and to prenatal care and delivery services. Moreover, 34 states and the District of Columbia explicitly permit a minor mother to place her child for adoption without her own parents' permission or knowledge." 1 However, many states require her either to notify or to get permission from a parent or guardian before obtaining an abortion. As of 2005-APR, 30 states had such laws in place. By early 2006, 35 states have them in effect or scheduled to take effect.

Parental involvement laws are a very controversial topic. There is a consensus in North America that a single teen who finds herself in an unwanted pregnancy should seek the support of empathic, caring, knowledgeable adults. Ideally, this should be her parents or guardians. Parental involvement laws make such notification of and/or consent by one or both parents or guardians mandatory. Unfortunately, not all teens live in a supportive home environment. Some are in dysfunctional families where the news of their pregnancy could precipitate emotional abuse, physical abuse or ejection from the home. This has forced some young women to seek out risky "back-alley" abortions.

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Status of parental involvement laws in various states:

In the United States, a pregnant woman who has not reached the age of majority may not be able to decide on her own to obtain an abortion. The age of majority for health matters is 18 in most states; it is 19 in Alabama and 21 in Pennsylvania. States vary in abortion access for young women. Planned Parenthood web site reports that, as of 2007-JAN:

bulletNo restrictive laws: Six states (CT, HI, NY, OR, VT, WA) and the District of Columbia allow a woman to obtain an abortion without telling her parents or court-appointed guardian, and without obtaining permission from them. This is a reduction from 28 states in 1999-FEB.
bulletLaws not in effect: New Mexico's consent law is not in effect because of the opinion of their Attorney General. Court injunctions prevent the consent laws in three other states (AK, CA, ID), and the notification laws in five states (IL, MT, NV, NH, NJ) from being enforced. 2
bulletParent notification laws are in place in 11 states:
bullet10 states (CO, DE, FL, GA, IA, KS, MN, NE, SD, WV) require that a parent must be informed of her intent before she can obtain an abortion. This is an increase from 5 in 1999.
bullet1 state (MN) requires that both parents be informed.
bullet Parent consent laws are in place in 20 states:
bullet2 states (MS, ND) require consent from both parents. This is an increase of one state from 1999.
bulletIn the 22 states not mentioned above, she has to obtain permission from one of her parents or guardians before she can obtain an abortion. This is an increase from 13 states in 1999.

A grandparent, other family member over the age of 25, counselor, or physician may substitute for a parent in a few states. The parental notification law in Delaware only applies to youths under 16.

Lists are available on-line which show restrictive laws on a state-by-state basis. See:

bulletPlanned Parenthood at: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/
bulletThe Coalition for Positive Sexualityat: http://www.positive.org/ 3
bulletCARAL at: http://www.choice.org/ 4
bulletUSA Today at: http://www.usatoday.com/ 5

These lists should be consulted with care, because:

bulletthey may contain errors
bulletthe situation in each state is volatile. It can change overnight with the signing of a new state or federal law, or the issuing of a court decision, or a decision by an attorney general that a law cannot be applied.

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Court challenge to the Virginia law:

Some state notification and consent laws are not in full effect because of court challenges.

Virginia's 1997 notification law was upheld unanimously in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. In early 1999 the U.S. Supreme Court decided to not review the case; this, in effect, declares that the Virginia law -- and similar laws in other states -- to be constitutional. The Virginia law requires only the notification of one parent or guardian. It has an exception for women who:

bullethave been abused by a parent or guardian, or
bulletwho can convince a judge that they are sufficiently mature to make their own decision to have an abortion, or
bulletfor women who, in the opinion of a physician, risk "substantial physical injury" from a parent or guardian who is notified about the abortion.

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New Hampshire revisits its parental notification law:

As noted above, the parental notification law in New Hampshire which was passed in 2003 never came into effect. Judge Joseph A. DiClerico Jr. of Federal District Court in Concord declared it unconstitutional because it did not include an exemption when a minor’s health was in danger. Pro-life advocates argued that this type of exception was not needed. In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the District Court's ruling.

Since the law was passed, the Democratic party has gain control of the New Hampshire legislature. A bill to repeal the law passed the State House in 2007-MAR with a vote of 217 to 141. It passed the State Senate in 2007-JUN with a 15 to 9 vote. Governor John Lynch is expected to sign the bill into law.

State Senator Robert J. Letourneau, (R) said:

"You can’t get your daughter or son’s ears pierced under the age of 17 without parental consent; you can’t get a tattoo without parental consent. To me it’s unconscionable that you can’t give an aspirin to a child in school without parental consent, but they can have major surgery without parental notification!" 7

In referring to "major surgery," Letourneau appears to be referring to rare late-term abortions. It is extremely unlikely that a young woman would want an abortion at that state in pregnancy without notifying her parents; her parents would already be certain to have noticed her advanced pregnancy.

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Note:

The above essay is for informational purposes only. It is not to be interpreted as legal or medical advice. Laws change frequently.

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References used:

The following sources of information were used in the preparation and updating of this essay. The Internet links are not necessarily still intact.

  1. "Parental involvement laws for abortion out of step with other laws ensuring minors' right to consent to health care," The Alan Guttmacher Institute, (2000), at: http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/
  2. "Laws Requiring Parental Consent or Notification for Minors' Abortions," Planned Parenthood, Updated 2007-JAN-05, at: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/
  3. The Coalition for Positive Sexuality is a service to help teens with sexual decisions. See: http://www.positive.org/
  4. CARAL Pro-Choice Education Fund, Reproductive Health and Rights Center at: http://www.choice.org/index.html
  5. Patricia Donovan, "Teenagers' Right to Consent to Reproductive Health Care," Alan Guttmacher Institute, (1997), at: http://www.agi-usa.org/pubs/ib21.html#2a
  6. The Nebraska parental notification law is described at: http://www.abortionclinics.org/
  7. Peter J. Smith, "New Hampshire repeals parental notification law," LifeSiteNews, 2007-JUN-08, at: http://www.lifesite.net/

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 Home > "Hot" topics > Abortion > Legal aspects > Parental involvement > here

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Copyright © 1998 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 1998-JUL-13
Latest update: 2007-JUN-09
Author: Bruce A Robinson
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