PART III: An In-Depth Look into Parental Consent/Notification Laws for Teen Abortions
Parental Notification versus Parental Consent
Across the nation where parental consent or parental notification laws are present, there is a major difference as to what extent parents are able to be involved by law. As mentioned in PART I of this series some states only require that a parent/legal guardian be told or notified that his/her child is undergoing a pregnancy termination whereas other states require consent from those with custodial rights over child. And there are also states that mandatorily need parent permission and then a notification when the abortion takes place. Some laws say both parents must be involved, while other states say one parent is just fine. So depending on where a pregnant adolescent who wishes to terminate her pregnancy lives, she may have fewer or greater hurdles to leap over in order to exercise her reproductive rights.
Studies from the Family Research Council have shown that when parents or legal guardians are legally granted to provide consent to their child's abortion, the rate of total pregnancy terminations among minors decreases at about 14%. Whether this is good news or not depends on where an individual stands ideologically. This figure is also blurred when taking into consideration that some minors may have circumvented the parental consent laws by having the procedure in neighboring states or using a concoction of over-the-counter supplements to cause a miscarriage.
Despite this, the question becomes, is it about preventing as many abortions as possible or is it about respecting all reproductive choices including those of minors? In the cases in which parental consent versus simply parents needing only to be aware of their child's decision seems to prevent some girls from being able to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy when the parents/legal guardians do not agree with the impregnated subject's wishes to have the abortion. Laws in some states where a parent/guardian simply needs to be notified allows the minor to still move forward with her decision, however there may be an array of consequences following her decision now that her parents/guardians have been notified.
Parental Consent and Notorization
There are a handful of states who have enacted parental consent laws in which the minor must obtain a notarized consent letter from one or both parents in order to exercise her reproductive rights. It is clear that these states wish to ensure that the minor is truly getting consent from her parent(s) and not someone else, especially a predator, but there are major financial and timely concerns:
1. The minor must locate and schedule and appointment with a notary to have a consent letter drafted.
2. Most notaries charge about $20 to $30 per signature depending on traveling fees, adding another cost to the minor and/or her family.
States that enforce notarized consent such as Arizona, Arkansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia create just one more roadblock against minors seeking to end their pregnancies. None of these states appear to have any exceptions for expediting the process if the teen's health or life are at risk or at least having a doctor involved to waive any enforcement based on the health of the minor.
Communicating about Pregnancy
A major question with parental consent and notification contests if such laws governing minors' reproductive rights are truly necessary. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), most pregnant young women under age 18 actually tell one or both of their parents at a rate of about 61%. The younger the teen the more likely she was to involve her parents with young ladies under 15 being 90% likely to inform their parents of a pregnancy they wished to have terminated. A large portion of teens who chose not to speak with their parents entrusted another adult instead of dealing with the situation on their own.
Young women under 18 that chose to leave their parents/legal guardians out of their decision to end their pregnancies were enduring problematic home environments where there was a prevalence of alcoholism, physical or mental abuse, and even worse, incest, says the ACLU. Many supporters of parental consent and notification laws tend to believe that cases where minors wind up pregnant in broken homes make up only a small percentage of overall teen pregnancy cases, but the statistics beg to differ. There must be further questioning of the reasoning behind parental consent and notification laws being falsely justified as preserving minors' safety.
Parental Notification and Abuse
One of the most controversial parts of parental consent laws lies in the assumption under the law that all parents/legal guardians are good people. Childhelp.org reveals some disturbing statistics as to why forcing some children who wind up pregnant to have their parents informed and/or have them consent for their child to end a pregnancy is opening the door for danger.
Costing the United States nearly $124 billion in 2008, child abuse, both physically, sexually and psychologically is reported every ten seconds. What's worse is that 90% of victims know their assailant. Though it is unclear from this statistic if these perpetrators are family members or not, the prevalence of abuse especially when it occurs during pregnancy can be devastating. The same article goes on to report that of the those that were abused and neglected in adolescence, 30% will abuse their own children and 80% will have developed a physiological disorder by their 21st birthday. From the abuse angle, parental consent/notification laws may add insult to injury (literally) for teens in abusive homes, especially in cases where a family member is the direct result of the pregnancy.
One study's findings posted on ACLU's webpage examined notifying parents of pregnancy found some alarming facts:
" 22% of teens who did not tell a parent about their abortion decision feared that, if they told their parents, they would be kicked out of the house. More than 8% feared that they would be physically abused because their parents had beaten them before. Of those who did not tell a parent, 12% did not live with either parent and 14% had parents who abused drugs or alcohol" (Henshaw & Kost).
Conclusion and Looking Forward
Some may argue that provisions in the law have been made to mitigate and properly prosecute abuse by allowing a minor to be pardoned by a judge so that she can make the decision herself without involving her parents. Though it is important to have provisions like these, the question becomes how realistic is it for the average minor to be pardoned by a judge?
Part IV of this article series will take a closer look at the process to be pardoned by a judge. To what extent does this create more hurdles for a minor to get access to her healthcare? How quickly are her needs able to be met when she seeks to be pardoned by a judge? How feasible is it to correctly go through the process of being pardoned by a judge?