Commentary Abortion

Federalizing Parental Consent Isn’t Child’s Play

Gwen Emmons

The push to federalize parental notification laws is back… and if last week's hearing is any indication, it’s based on the same misguided arguments laced with a healthy dose of condescension towards young women and their private decisions.

The push to federalize parental notification laws is back… and if last week’s hearing is any indication, it’s based on the same misguided arguments laced with a healthy dose of condescension towards young women and their private decisions.

Right now, most states require that a minor obtain the consent of a parent, grandparent, or other trusted adult before getting an abortion. While it would be great if everyone had an adult they could talk to, we know that’s not always the case. The alternative – going to court to obtain a judicial bypass – isn’t that pretty, either. So some young women travel to states that don’t require parental consent. 

H.R. 2288, the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (CIANA), seeks to put an end to all that by federalizing parental consent laws. As a result, many women won’t be able to obtain basic reproductive healthcare simply because of how old they are.

Thursday’s panel was full of patronizing, statistically questionable commentary that we’ve seen way too many times before.

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Let’s break down some of the low points, courtesy of panelists Dr. Michael New, a sociologist at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and Professor Theresa Collett, of the St. Thomas University School of Law:

“State level parental involvement laws reduce the in-state abortion rate for minors.” 

 As I’ve argued before, a reduction in abortion rates doesn’t mean abortions aren’t happening. Dr. New also gleefully points out that requiring both parents to consent reduces the abortion rate even further. If we continue that line of logic (and I’m sure anti-choicers have), before you know it we’ll be proposing legislation requiring women of all ages to get the consent of everyone they know prior to obtaining an abortion.

“The Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act would lead to…better public health outcomes for teen girls.” 

It’s funny this was brought up, since neither panelist actually talked about the public health impact of parental notification laws. In states with parental consent laws, we’ve seen that young women are more likely to have abortions during their second trimester – a more expensive procedure with a higher risk of complications. Wouldn’t it follow, then, that less onerous restrictions would result in earlier, less risky procedures and better health outcomes?

“Opponents…have argued that passage of federal legislation in this area would endanger teens since parents may be abusive and many teens would seek illegal abortions. This is a phantom fear.”

Most young women can and will turn to parents or trusted adults when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. But every year, nearly 4 million women (including many young women) in the U.S. are victims of domestic violence. Others may be living in a home situation where honest and open dialogue just isn’t a reality. Sure, not every young woman is in that situation – but shouldn’t we be there for the young women who need us most?

They are right about one thing–use of the judicial bypass to avoid seeking parental consent is relatively rare. But if you’re facing an unwanted pregnancy and the clock is ticking, do you really have time to look up how to go about a judicial bypass? Do you have the ability to take off school or your part time job to go to court? And, let’s be honest, the prospect of going to court and pleading your case is kind of terrifying.

But the thing that’s most outrageous about CIANA is that it isn’t in the interest of young women’s health at all. In most states, minors are able to give consent for virtually every other area of their healthcare – from consenting to mental health services, to receiving prenatal care and obtaining HIV and STI testing–within their state or across state lines. That they’re attacking the right to access abortion demonstrates that this isn’t about protecting the public health of women under 18; it’s about making an already difficult-to-obtain procedure even harder to access for a particular segment of the population. 

The one bright spot of Thursday’s panel was the testimony of Rev. Dr. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, President and Dean of Episcopal Divinity School. After sharing a story of a 15-year-old woman she helped obtain an abortion, she counseled:

Certainly, we want young people to be able to turn to their parents. But when they can’t or won’t, we want to make it easier, not harder, for them to turn to other responsible adults and, most certainly, we don’t want to make it harder for their doctors to be their allies and advocates.

That’s advice we can only hope our legislators take into consideration when voting on CIANA.

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