We need to reconsider mandated parental consent abortion laws
The abortion debate is one of the most controversial topics in the U.S today, and one that has only become more relevant under the current administration. In March, Mississippi’s governor signed a ban on abortions after 15 weeks; in April, Kentucky’s governor signed a law that limits certain procedures for patients who have been pregnant for more than 11 weeks, and on May 4, Iowa’s governor signed a bill that bans abortions as early as six weeks. While these bans are concerning to everyone who supports reproductive rights, they’re especially concerning to young people like myself who did, and still do not, have the power to vote against them. Even more concerning than how these laws will shape our future reproductive decisions, however, are laws that particularly target minors.
Many abortion restrictions are centered on mandated parental consent, which requires minors to notify their parents before the procedure. Many states — including Texas, Oklahoma, and Utah — already require this. They argue that this requirement will ensure the minor seeking an abortion is making an informed decision. In reality, however, such notification could potentially put an abortion-seeking teen’s mental and/or physical health at risk. Minors should have the right to have an abortion without parental consent or notification because teens who choose not notify their parents before having an abortion likely do so for very good reasons other than privacy or shame.
In reality, most teens who seek abortions will notify their parents if they feel they are able. One study from the Guttmacher Institute found that 61 percent of all minors and 90 percent of those under 15 already willingly informed their parents before getting an abortion, regardless of whether the law mandated it or not. Of minors who didn’t tell their parents, according to the same study, 30 percent did so because they had previously experienced violence in the family and were concerned for their safety. Under parental consent laws, teens who have already suffered abuse at home would be mandated to expose themselves to more abuses. Additionally, forcing teens in such situations to potentially be denied an abortion only leads to them raising a baby in an unsafe environment, or worse, on the street without a reliable support system, effectively jeopardizing both mother and child.
Although supporters of parental consent laws might argue that including parents in these decisions will lessen the burden of terminating a pregnancy on pregnant teens, these laws delay their access to appropriate medical care and put them at a higher risk of complications. Because teens aren’t likely to jump at the chance to tell their parents about their sex lives, whether they have good relationships with their parents or not, it’s likely that minors in states with these laws will therefore delay informing their parents about their pregnancy to get permission for an abortion. This results in them waiting longer to have an abortion than they would had they felt they could pursue the procedure themselves. This delay could lead to higher gestational ages at which their abortions occur and therefore expose them to higher risks associated with the procedure. A study of abortions published in the New England Journal of Medicine backs this up: It found that minors forced to get their parents’ consent were 34 percent more likely to have an abortion in the much riskier second trimester than those who were 18 or older in the same state.
One alternative to these mandates proposed by advocates are judicial bypasses, which allow pregnant teens to receive abortions without consent from their guardians by instead getting an order from a judge that permits the procedure. But these bypasses put judges — who, of course, are not counselors, doctors, or experts in youth development — in charge of making reproductive health care decisions for teens. And then there’s the lengthy timeline of that process; judicial waivers take at least 22 days to complete. This means even the best option for pregnant teens who don’t want to include their parents in their decision (including victims of rape or abuse) puts them at further risk for health complications. These laws do little more, therefore, than require already overwhelmed minors to go through a lengthy and stressful process that could potentially result in the same outcome should they have failed to pursue it anyway.
Although many teens are lucky enough to be able to turn to their parents when met with an unwanted pregnancy, laws that mandate all teens must do so generalize that all teens are able to do so. In reality, this act would be detrimental to the health and livelihoods of many teens. These laws and regulations have the opposite effect of the safety they claim to provide and shouldn’t be imposed on teens who lack the power to vote against them.
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