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PART I: An In-Depth look into Parental Notification/Consent Laws for Teen Abortions

Updated on July 2, 2014

Would You?

If you were or are a girl under 18, would you consult one of your parents before getting an abortion where parental consent laws are present?

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An Introduction to the Controversy

Coming to a consensus on parental consent for a minor to terminate her pregnancy has been seamless in some states in America and on the battle ground for many years in others. Of the 30-something states that have parental consent laws and the primarily right and left coast states that are in full favor of a minor’s right to end her pregnancy without any intervention, the only way to know if parental consent laws hinder or help minors is to look at the facts.

This is article is the first of five that dive into the controversy and statistics behind teen pregnancy, youth sovereignty and aspects of parental consent and notification laws. There are myriad questions to answer: How does parental consent currently affect girls in states where the law is enforced? Has there been an increase or decrease in unintended teen pregnancies due to the presence or lack of existence of the law? How does parental consent affect other parties involved such as the male responsible for the impregnation?

These questions are just a few of the many concerns that surface in the difficult and fragile issue of trying to ensure the safety of girls under the age of eighteen when they are faced with an unexpected pregnancy. Though some are quick to say if you need parent permission for a field trip, naturally, it should be mandatory for something as serious as a medical procedure like dissolving a pregnancy. Some, on the other hand, point to statistics surrounding incest, abuse and drug and alcohol environments in unsafe homes and adamantly stand by minors' sides in letting them make their own reproductive decisions.

Thus, this investigation reveals a broad range of research in order to answer the question of whether or not parental consent and notification laws are actually protecting pregnant female minors as the states where these laws are enacted have promised to do.

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The General Pros and Cons

Putting the specific state legislation aside there are general advantages and disadvantages to involving parents or relatives in a minor’s decision to cease being pregnant.

Why Parental Consent May be Beneficial to Minors

1. Parent(s) or legal guardian(s) can ensure the minor gets the proper post-procedure care.

2. Parent(s) or legal guardian(s) are able to mediate between the parents of the male who impregnated the female minor.

3. Evidence of sexual assault can be acted upon more efficiently.

Why Parental Consent May be Detrimental to Minors

1. Involving parents can worsen abuse situations or hide rape from incest.

2. A teen may resort to extreme measures to circumvent her parent(s)/legal guardian(s).

3. Most girls involve already responsible adult in their decision.

4. The parent(s) or legal guardian(s) may have a different belief about ending the life of a developing human.

5. The teen may wait until she is of legal age to have the procedure which may not be wise for her health,as that will involve waiting longer in the pregnancy to end it.

6. A judge’s pardon may be a lengthy process and interfere with her access to a safer and more timely reversing the pregnancy.

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Varying Parental Consent Laws

As mentioned before, from state to state there are lenient and rigid versions of the parental consent law for for a minor to end her pregnancy, as well as no laws at all. For example, one of the strictest parental consent laws resides in North Dakota. According to Planned Parenthood which descriptively outlines the laws in laments terms from California to Maine explains that North Dakota requires that both parents need to give permission for their child to abort unless the minor is excused by a judge.

Utah has chosen a rather convoluted adaptation of the law with the following restrictions: “one of your parents give permission for your abortion, and separately that one parent be told of your decision 72 hours before the abortion takes place. A judge can excuse you from the first requirement (permission), but not the second (that a parent be told). You can be excused from the second requirement if you have only one parent and that parent has abused you, and your doctor reports that abuse to the appropriate authorities. You can also be excused from this requirement if your parent has failed to take responsibility for your care.”

Though Utah has carefully thought about the safety of a minor especially if abuse is present. There is a burden placed on the minor by forcing her to make an appointment with a doctor in order to get proof that she has been abused and in only in cases when there is only one parent. So if she and her mother are both being abused by her father and her mother is too frightened to advocate for her, the minor is either out of luck or will have to go through the red tape of getting a judge's pardon which will delay getting access to an aborting in a timely manner.

Alternatively, other states have sought more middle ground by extending permission or informing parties related to the minor to those outside the traditional parent/legal guardian role. Wisconsin takes an interesting twist on the law stating, “one of your parents; a grandparent; or an aunt, uncle, or sibling who is at least 25 years old give permission for your abortion. A judge can excuse you from this requirement.” Similarly, West Virginia has a different approach, requiring that only one parent at least be told of their child’s pregnancy termination at least 24 hours before the procedure takes place and that a judge or doctor other than the one terminating the pregnancy can excuse the child from her parent being informed.

Reading all fifty of the different laws or no requirements at all from Planned Parenthood’s website is not only helpful for understanding how different states have decided to liaise between family, a minor, doctors, and the law, but also brings to light many questions on which of these restrictions works best for the child if any at all.

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Background on Pregnancy Termination Procedures

Many are unclear on what it means to have access to a "safe and timely abortion". The sooner the pregnancy is terminated the safer it is for the patient. In fact, according to Reuters Health, delivering a baby is 14 times more likely to result in death of the mother compared to safely and legally ending a pregnancy. According to the Guttmacher Institute here are some quick facts on the procedure:

  • Terminating a pregnancy safer when performed in the first trimester. Only 0.05% of these procedures lead to a patient needing hospitalized care due to complications.
  • Ceasing a pregnancies in the first trimester have little to no future medical issues such as infertility, ectopic pregnancies, miscarriages, birth defects or low-birth weights.
  • There is no association between medical procedures to end pregnancy and breast cancer.
  • Women who carry their unplanned pregnancy to term are more likely to develop mental health problems.
  • 58% of females that received an abortion say they would have preferred to have gotten the procedure sooner.
  • Those more likely to wait until after 15 weeks into pregnancy to have the pregnancy terminated tend to be teenagers.
  • Medical risks rise if deciding not to carry the baby to term is elected later in the pregnancy with only one death out of one million patients before or at 8 weeks versus one death for every 29,000 between 16 to 20 weeks pregnant and one death for every 11,000 after 21 weeks pregnant.

A Look Ahead

In Part II of this article series, this investigation will dive into a common aspect of most parental consent and notification laws: mandatory waiting periods. Not only does a minors' geographic location determine if whether she is required to involve her parents or not in her decision to reverse her pregnancy, but where she lives also affects how long she may be forced by law to wait before being legally allowed to abort.

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