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Parental consent/notification for teen abortions:

The pros and cons of
compulsory parental involvement

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Factors in favor of mandatory parental involvement:

bulletReligious support: Essentially all Fundamentalist and other Evangelical religious denominations are believed to support parental involvement laws.
bulletParental rights: Parents have the right to know about any significant activity of their under-age teens. Senatorial candidate John Pinkerton (D-CA) comments: "Parents must give consent before their child can have their ears pierced or a tattoo put on. In fact, in public schools and emergency rooms, parents must give consent before their child can be treated with so much as an aspirin. Most voters agree that it is outrageous to allow a child to undergo any surgical procedure, let alone an invasive, irreversible procedure such as an abortion, without parental notification."
bulletWelfare of the Child: Deciding whether to have an abortion or continue the pregnancy will probably have a major long-term impact on the teen's psychological and emotional well-being, her ability to continue formal education, her future financial status, etc. Notification and consent laws help pregnant teens get support and guidance from their parents in this important decision. California state attorneys stated in a brief: "To deny parents the opportunity...risks or perpetuates estrangement or alienation from the child when she is in the greatest need of parental guidance and support and denies all dignity to the family."
bulletSafety: A woman who has an abortion in secret, and experiences complications may be disinclined to reveal the problem to her parents. Complications, while rare, could conceivably develop to threaten the woman's life.
bulletCriminal activity: There have been situations in which a child molester has secretly taken an under-aged girl to have an abortion, in order to cover up his crime. Parental notification could help expose the sexual abuse.

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Factors opposing mandatory parental involvement:

bulletReligious support: Essentially all liberal religious groups are believed to oppose parental consent and notification laws.
bulletProfessional Societies: Parental consent laws are opposed by a number of professional medical groups, including: American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, and the American Medical Women's Association.
bulletBirth Control: The National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association believes that if one service at a family planning clinic requires parental consent or notification, that some teens may be disinclined to seek other services at the clinic as well. If true, then young people might not obtain the counseling needed to help them avoid unwanted pregnancies. The total number of unwanted pregnancies and thus of abortions could increase as a result of parental notification laws. Other teens might not seek medical attention for a suspected HIV or other STD infection. This could threaten their life or health.
bulletHealth Risks:
bulletDelaying an abortion by only a few days, increases the possibility of complications arising from the procedure. Clinic and hospital abortions before the third trimester are far safer than childbirth. Teens are 24 times more likely to die from childbirth than from a legal abortion performed in the first trimester. However, the risk of death or major complications significantly increases for each week into pregnancy, particularly if the abortion is delayed until the third trimester.1,2
bulletJudge Nixon of The District Court in Tennessee estimated "that even under the best of circumstances, the [judicial] waiver process would take twenty-two days to complete - a significant problem given the time-sensitive nature of pregnancy and the increased risk involved in later abortions." 3
bulletThe American Academy of Pediatrics stated that "Legislation mandating parental involvement does not achieve the intended benefit of promoting family communication, but it does increase the risk of harm to the adolescent by delaying access to appropriate medical care...[M]inors should not be compelled or required to involve their parents in their decisions to obtain abortions, although they should be encouraged to discuss their pregnancies with their parents and other responsible adults." 4
bulletAn American Medical Association study in 1992 showed that mandatory parental involvement laws "increase the gestational age at which the induced pregnancy termination occurs, thereby also increasing the risk associated with the procedure." 5
bulletA study of abortions by researchers at Baruch College at City University of New York showed that Texas teens who were between 17 years, 6 months old and 18 years old were 34% more likely to have an abortion in the much riskier second trimester than young women who were 18 or older when they became pregnant.

Lawrence Finer, spokesperson for the Guttmacher Institute said: "It just shows how laws like this can lead to health risks for teens. Abortion is a safe procedure, but it's less safe later in the pregnancy." He suggest that parental involvement laws have a small effect on abortion rates compared with improved sexual education and birth control access and usage. 6

bulletThe American Medical Association noted that because "the need for privacy may be compelling, minors may be driven to desperate measures to maintain the confidentiality of their pregnancies. They may run away from home, obtain a 'back alley' abortion, or resort to self-induced abortion. The desire to maintain secrecy has been one of the leading reasons for illegal abortion deaths since...1973." 7
bulletWomen who go out of state in order to avoid the parental involvement laws in their own state may place themselves at risk during the trip home. It may be a long distance during which medical attention might not be readily available.
bulletParents who are opposed to abortion might force their daughter to continue with the pregnancy against her wishes, even if remaining pregnant represents a significant risk to her health or life.
bulletSome parents will become physically or emotionally abusive to their daughter, or throw her out on the street if they learn of the pregnancy.
bulletA pregnant woman who is a few months short of her 18th birthday might decide to wait until she is 18 before having an abortion. A delay in scheduling an abortion increases the possibility of medical complications.
bullet"Some young women fear the news will exacerbate a parent's psychiatric or physical illness, drug or alcohol abuse, or troubled relationships with other family members." 8
bulletRespect for the woman's decision: Some people believe that if a young woman has decided to become sexually active, then she should be allowed to decide whether to have an abortion and whether to choose to involve her parents in the decision about an abortion.
bulletIneffectiveness of the Judicial Waiver: Young women who live in rural areas often have difficulty getting a judicial waiver; they have no easy access to a judge. Courthouses are often more easily accessible to women who live in cities. Confidentiality can not necessarily be assured. Some teens lack the knowledge and experience of court procedures to obtain a waiver. Some cannot attend court if their hearing occurs during school hours. Some judges are strongly pro-life. Although the Supreme Court requires judges to issue a waiver if the teen is mature or if an abortion is in her best interest, some judges routinely deny petitions.
bulletLaw contributes to family breakdown: Studies by the Alan Guttmacher Institute show that the vast majority of adolescents, particularly those 15 years of age or younger, involve their parents in an abortion decision. A group which successfully overturned a California consent law said: "The statute operates only on young women who do not consult their parents with the news of pregnancy because the family is unsupportive, in crisis, dysfunctional or abusive...For these young women, the statute tests the already difficult relationship between parent and child, undermining the very goals it purports to promote." Some teens risk physical abuse or abandonment if she tells a parent about her pregnancy.
bulletLaws not needed and may be dangerous: A study conducted by Planned Parenthood found that 61 percent of minors who had abortions discussed their plans with at least one parent before undergoing the procedure. Of those minors who did not inform their parents of their abortions, 30 percent had histories of violence in their families, feared the occurrence of violence, or were afraid of being kicked out of their homes. The American Association of University Women states:

"While the intent of such laws is to enhance family communication, the failure to guarantee confidentiality often deters young people from seeking timely services and care resulting in increased instances of sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and late term abortions." 9

An ACLU briefing paper states:

"...such laws are unnecessary for stable and supportive families, and they are ineffective and cruel for unstable, troubled families. Such laws cannot transform abusive families into supportive ones, nor can they reduce the alarmingly high rate of teenage pregnancy. Instead, they only add to the crushing problems faced by pregnant teenagers: They create delays that increase the medical risks of abortion and effectively eliminate the option of abortion for many minors. Tragically, those minors in greatest need of confidential medical care are often the very ones whose access to care is delayed." 8

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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. Willard Cates, Jr. & David Grimes, "Morbidity and Mortality of Abortion in the United States," Abortion and Sterilization, Jane Hodgson, ed., Grune and Stratton, New York NY, (1981), Page 158
  2. Rachel Gold, "Abortion and Women's Health: A Turning Point for America?," New York: Alan Guttmacher Institute, New York, NY, (1990), Pages 29-30.
  3. CARAL Reproductive Health and right Center, "District Court Invalidates Tennessee Parental Consent for Abortions," at: http://www.choice.org/11.minors.TN.html
  4. American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Adolescence, "The Adolescent's Right to Confidential Care When Considering Abortion," Pediatrics, Vol. 97, # 5 (1996-MAY), Page 746.
  5. American Medical Association, "Induced Termination of Pregnancy Before and After Roe v. Wade, Trends in the Mortality and Morbidity of Women," JAMA, Vol. 268, # 22 (1992-DEC), Page 3238.
  6. Lisa Falkenberg: "Study: Texas parental law might lower and delay teen abortion," Houston Chronicle, 2006-MAR-09, at: http://www.chron.com/
  7. American Medical Association, Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, "Mandatory Parental Consent to Abortion," JAMA, Vol. 269, # 1 (1993-JAN-6), Page 83.
  8. American Civil Liberties Union, "Reproductive Freedom: The Rights of Minors," at: http://www.aclu.org/library/pbp7.html
  9. "Should Abortion Rights Be Restricted? | Introduction," Enotes, at: http://soc.enotes.com/

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

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Copyright 1998 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 1998-JUL-13
Latest update: 2006-MAR-12
Author: Bruce A Robinson

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