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PART II: An In-Depth Look into Parental Consent/Notification Laws for Teen Abortions

Updated on July 22, 2014

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Mandatory Waiting Periods

PART I of this article series focused on the general advantages and disadvantages of parental consent and notification laws for ending a minor's pregnancy. In addition to the difference in parental consent laws across the country, parental consent laws also vary by state when it comes to a waiting period. When present, waiting periods prevent the pregnant individual from terminating her pregnancy until after a certain period of time has passed, usually ranging from 18 to 72 hours depending on the state. The waiting period begins after she has contacted a clinic to schedule the procedure. There are advantages and disadvantages to this as well:

Pros to Waiting Periods:

- The minor has a chance to rethink her decision or decide who she would like to include in her decision process.

- She has more time to receive counseling and advice from others prior to making a decision to terminate the pregnancy.

- She may realize that she is comfortable with other options such as keeping the child or giving the child up for adoption once birth occurs.

Cons to Waiting Periods:

- The pregnant girl may have already thought out the pros and cons and involved who she wishes to involve in her decision, but is still forced to wait to receive health care after contacting the clinic.

- A waiting period may prevent the minor from receiving a less costly and safer pregnancy termination procedure such as the difference between an abortion pill and a standard abortion procedure. Most parental consent laws have no literature for waiving the waiting period if the child's life is in danger which would press the need for her to receive such health care immediately.

- Depending on when the minor has contacted a clinic for to undergo the procedure, she may not be legally able to end her pregnancy if the waiting period extends into a point in pregnancy in which the procedure is no longer legal (no abortions are performed later than 13 weeks into pregnancy in South Dakota)


Waiting Periods & Gestational Progress

Because waiting periods can directly interfere with a minor's ability to terminate her pregnancy if laws in her state ban aborting after a certain point in gestation, there is one primary concern. There are actually two ways of stating how many weeks pregnant a female is. In some states after abiding by the waiting period, this could be the difference in being able to have access to a pregnancy termination procedure or not at all.

By scientific fact, once the sperm has met the egg and conception has completed, congratulations, you're two weeks pregnant already.This is because charting pregnancy progress is commonly conducted based on when the egg that will be fertilized is released, not when it is actually fertilized. And even at the point of fertilization and conception, this little egg still has quite a journey in which it will take about ten days to travel down the Fallopian tube and successfully implant in the uterine lining. Without successful implantation, a miscarriage would occur which tend to account for 50% to 75% of all miscarriages, reports the American Pregnancy Association.

On the contrary, Christine Harris, Ph.D and writer of The Pregnancy Journal, explains how pregnancy can also be charted with counting the day of conception as the first day of pregnancy in which full term would be at 38 weeks instead of 40 weeks. This is a less common method used when the last normal menstrual cycle is not included in the calculation and is a more acceptable way of counting the weeks of pregnancy in in vitro fertilization and artificial insemination pregnancies in which the woman would not be following a typical cycle in order to become pregnant.

Starting at two weeks pregnant at the time of conception is how medical doctors count the weeks of gestation and it makes perfect sense because it is following the typical menstrual cycle. But, when laws like waiting periods intertwine with women's health, women and girls that face waiting periods are automatically put on a ticking time bomb to receive prompt health care, as they already have two weeks against them the second they unintentionally conceive. Most will not even know they are pregnant until they miss a period or begin to feel morning sickness symptoms which is about 5 to 7 weeks later for the average woman. Teens, whose bodies are still developing, often already have irregular menstrual cycles and skip periods normally so they may likely take longer to suspect they might be pregnant.

And so this unintentional ambiguity in the medical realm of counting weeks of gestation along with how long it may take a teen especially to discover she's pregnant, has for some women and girls caused a slew of hurdles to overcome to receive timely abortion care. The question becomes, with such complex medical standards and grey areas, should legislators and laws really interfere so deeply with medical procedures down to forcing a female minor to wait a certain amount of days to undergo a simple procedure to reverse her pregnancy? Why are there no waiting periods for other medical procedures?

Are the Restrictions Helping or Hurting?

The main concern is to make sure that the girls that become entangled in these laws press on from this difficult process of becoming pregnant, having her parents informed/being granted permission, and moving on from the situation emotionally and physically sound. Sure, it’s difficult for parents, legal guardians and often even the male who impregnated the girl; however, with the girl being in the most fragile state of all parties involved, it is best that any law made revolving parental consent focuses on her safety and psychological and physical well-being first.

In addition to the well-being of the pregnant minor, how will her future be shaped because of such an incident? If there are too many hurdles to overcome, resulting in her continuing with the pregnancy and keeping the baby, what will her life and her new child's life be like? Although there are many laws that try to keep the pregnant pregnant, there are not many laws or programs that offer help once a child is born.

Still known for the highest pregnancy rate despite a steady decline, the United States 34% of teenagers have a child before age 20 and nearly 80% of them have not tied the knot and did not intend to get pregnant. With only 33% of these young ladies earning a high school diploma, 13% of the sons they birth will likely to end up in prison while 22% of their daughters born are more likely to be teen moms, thus unintended teen pregnancy creates a vicious cycle of an economic nightmare costing $7 billion a year according to Teen Help.

In short, parental consent and notification laws further contribute to these statistics by creating more obstacles for a teen to have her pregnancy terminated and perpetuate a life for some individuals that keep children circulating through foster systems and reliant on welfare programs, as having a child at a young age greatly mitigates the chances of pursuing college, landing a professional career and providing more comprehensive parenting at a time when parents are highly committed to one another, financially stable and ready to have children.

In addition to these issues with parental consent laws, the situations for most pregnant teens are worsened by their socioeconomic status in which they have limited or no access to health care. Approximately 65% of unintended teen pregnancies result in bearing a child. Not only are most of these teens less likely to finish high school according to the National Abortion Federation, they are also less likely to receive prompt prenatal care if any at all, develop problems with their health and if they do get married, the union is more likely to end in divorce.


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