Commentary Family

Parental Consent and Notification Laws Are Dangerous. You Can’t Legislate Healthy Family Communication

Morgan Meneses-Sheets

A law forcing notification or consent doesn't help a young person who feels that they cannot turn to their parents out of fear for their safety or parental anger and disappointment. It simply makes it harder for them to access safe and legal care.

It’s hard to describe the parental instinct that makes you cry when they cry, laugh when they laugh, and changes you along the way. I have celebrated every moment watching my daughters grow up. I feel so lucky to be with them as they continue to grow and learn.

When they have their first crush, I hope they will come to me so we can giggle and share stories. I want to be there to show them that healthy relationships are grounded in respect. I want to ensure that any partner they choose will enrich their lives and bring them happiness. But if they feel uncomfortable talking to me or my wife, I hope they will reach out to someone like their aunt, since my little sister was always there by my side through my own heartbreaks and triumphs.

As a queer mom of biracial children, I know that my kids might face bullying because their family is different. If they are teased or are rejected by a clique in school, I want them to talk with me. We can discuss how they should not sacrifice too much to fit in and should always remain true to themselves. Difference can be difficult, but it is also something that we learn from and grow from, something that makes our family special. But if they think I won’t understand, perhaps they will look to a teacher or a minister, like the one who presided over one of our daughter’s blessing ceremony, for guidance.

If they have trouble figuring out the path they see for themselves, whether they want to go to college or art school, I can share my life experiences. I’d like to talk with them about privilege and how fortunate they are to have resources and parents who are able to support them financially to seek higher education. I’ll tell them how life doesn’t always turn out exactly the way you think it will, but it can be all the more exciting when it doesn’t. But maybe it won’t be me that they decide to talk to. It could be a guidance counselor or our family friend who runs her own business and has been another great role model as a strong and successful woman.

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And if either one of my daughters were to face an unintended pregnancy, I hope she would turn to me so we can talk together about all of her options. If she felt like she was ready to become a parent, we would be her advocate to make sure she could continue her education and support her along the way. If she was not ready or able to raise a child, we would talk about adoption and abortion and which decision felt best for her. And no matter what decision she made we would ensure she had access to quality health care services. We would hug her and let her know that we love her unconditionally and that we will be there for her.

But if she felt that she could not turn to us, she could talk to her doctor, the one who has always made sure she has the best care, or perhaps she would call my mom since they have a close relationship and she knows her grandma would support her no matter what.

Like any parent, I want to be involved in their lives, but if my daughters ever feel that they cannot talk to me, it is most important that they have access to information to help make their decisions and they know there are supportive people who will be there for them.

That’s why I am so concerned about the array of laws that force young people to notify a parent or adult family member before seeking an abortion. Politicians are taking their discomfort with teen sexuality and turning it into an agenda that imposes their personal and political beliefs and ideologies. The policies emerging from the misplaced values of politicians are threatening the health of young people.

Most young people already talk to their parents about important medical decisions, such as whether to seek an abortion, choose adoption, or become a parent. In fact, research shows that a majority of parents and teens are talking about things like sex and birth control. But not all young people live in this reality.

For a young person who feels that they cannot turn to their parents out of fear for their safety or parental anger and disappointment, the interference of a politician does not change anything. A law forcing notification or consent doesn’t help. It simply makes it harder to access safe and legal care.

The reality is that you can’t legislate healthy family communication. That is something that we work hard to create within our families. As caring adults, we ask our children about their day, help them do their homework, open the door to talking about sex, and try to do all we can to build strong relationships and show them how much we care.

Legislators cannot solve family issues or force a young person to talk to their parents. Policy decisions are not the right place to interfere with family dynamics or personal medical decisions. We need to put the health and safety of young people first.

That means that we have to stop laws that restrict young people’s access to care. We have to stop laws that create an unhealthy environment for conversation. We cannot stand by and watch while schools diminish the needs of young people, demonize teen parents, and withhold accurate information about sex and sexuality.

We cannot continue to shame pregnant and parenting teens or allow them to face discrimination. We need to get rid of policies that limit young people’s access to prenatal and maternity coveragehealth coverage for abortion, or create limitations on access to emergency contraception.

There is an agenda at work here—it is both a personal agenda, based on our own discomfort as a society with sex and sexuality, and it is a political agenda where lawmakers (and corporations) impose their personal beliefs on individuals and families.

I will be there for my daughters each step of the way, but that does not mean making every decision for them. Sometimes it means stepping back and trusting that we raised them to be capable of making their own decisions and having faith in them.

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