The pros and cons of
compulsory parental involvement
Factors in favor of mandatory parental involvement:
Religious support: Essentially all Fundamentalist and other Evangelical
religious denominations are believed to support parental involvement laws.
Parental rights: Parents have the right to know about any significant
activity of their under-age teens. Senatorial candidate John Pinkerton (D-CA) comments:
"Parents must give consent before their child can have their ears pierced or a
tattoo put on. In fact, in public schools and emergency rooms, parents must give consent
before their child can be treated with so much as an aspirin. Most voters
agree that it is outrageous to allow a child to undergo any surgical procedure, let alone an invasive,
irreversible procedure such as an abortion, without parental notification."
Welfare of the Child: Deciding whether to have an abortion or continue
the pregnancy will probably have a major long-term impact on the teen's psychological and
emotional well-being, her ability to continue formal education, her future financial
status, etc. Notification and consent laws help pregnant teens get support and guidance
from their parents in this important decision. California state attorneys stated in a
brief: "To deny parents the opportunity...risks or perpetuates estrangement or
alienation from the child when she is in the greatest need of parental guidance and
support and denies all dignity to the family."
Safety: A woman who has an abortion in secret, and experiences
complications may be disinclined to reveal the problem to her parents. Complications,
while rare, could conceivably develop to threaten the woman's life.
Criminal activity: There have been situations in which a child
molester has secretly taken an under-aged girl to have an abortion, in order
to cover up his crime. Parental notification could help expose the sexual
Factors opposing mandatory parental involvement:
Religious support: Essentially all liberal religious groups are
believed to oppose parental consent and notification laws.
Professional Societies: Parental consent laws are opposed by a number
of professional medical groups, including: American Medical Association, the American
Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of
Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, and
the American Medical Women's Association.
Birth Control: The National Family Planning & Reproductive
Health Association believes that if one service at a family planning clinic requires
parental consent or notification, that some teens may be disinclined to seek other
services at the clinic as well. If true, then young people might not obtain the counseling
needed to help them avoid unwanted pregnancies. The total number of unwanted
pregnancies and thus of abortions could
increase as a result of parental notification laws. Other teens might not seek medical
attention for a suspected HIV or other STD infection. This could threaten their life or
Delayingan abortion by only a few days, increases the
possibility of complications arising from the procedure. Clinic and hospital abortions
before the third trimester are far safer than childbirth. Teens are 24 times more likely
to die from childbirth than from a legal abortion performed in the first trimester.
However, the risk of death or major complications significantly increases for each week
into pregnancy, particularly if the abortion is delayed until the third trimester.1,2
Judge Nixon of The District Court in Tennessee estimated "that even under the
best of circumstances, the [judicial] waiver process would take twenty-two days to
complete - a significant problem given the time-sensitive nature of pregnancy and the
increased risk involved in later abortions." 3
The American Academy of Pediatrics stated that "Legislation mandating
parental involvement does not achieve the intended benefit of promoting family
communication, but it does increase the risk of harm to the adolescent by delaying access
to appropriate medical care...[M]inors should not be compelled or required to involve
their parents in their decisions to obtain abortions, although they should be encouraged
to discuss their pregnancies with their parents and other responsible adults."
An American Medical Association study in 1992 showed that mandatory parental
involvement laws "increase the gestational age at which the induced pregnancy
termination occurs, thereby also increasing the risk associated with the procedure."
A study of abortions by researchers at Baruch College at
City University of New York showed that Texas teens who were between 17
years, 6 months old and 18 years old were 34% more likely to have an abortion in
the much riskier second trimester than young women who were 18 or older when
they became pregnant.
spokesperson for the Guttmacher Institute said: "It just
shows how laws like this can lead to health risks for teens.
Abortion is a safe procedure, but it's less safe later in the
pregnancy." He suggest that parental involvement laws have a
small effect on abortion rates compared with improved sexual
education and birth control access and usage. 6
The American Medical Association noted that because "the need for privacy may
be compelling, minors may be driven to desperate measures to maintain the confidentiality
of their pregnancies. They may run away from home, obtain a 'back alley' abortion, or
resort to self-induced abortion. The desire to maintain secrecy has been one of the
leading reasons for illegal abortion deaths since...1973." 7
Women who go out of state in order to avoid the parental involvement laws in their own
state may place themselves at risk during the trip home. It may be a long distance during
which medical attention might not be readily available.
Parents who are opposed to abortion might force their daughter to continue with the
pregnancy against her wishes, even if remaining pregnant represents a significant risk to
her health or life.
Some parents will become physically or emotionally abusive to their daughter, or throw
her out on the street if they learn of the pregnancy.
A pregnant woman who is a few months short of her 18th birthday might decide to wait
until she is 18 before having an abortion. A delay in scheduling an abortion increases the
possibility of medical complications.
"Some young women fear the news will exacerbate a parent's psychiatric or
physical illness, drug or alcohol abuse, or troubled relationships with other family
Respect for the woman's decision: Some people believe that if a young
woman has decided to become sexually active, then she should be allowed to decide
whether to have an abortion and whether
to choose to involve her parents in the decision about an abortion.
Ineffectiveness of the Judicial Waiver: Young women who live in rural areas
often have difficulty getting a judicial waiver; they have no easy access to a judge.
Courthouses are often more easily accessible to women who live in cities. Confidentiality
can not necessarily be assured. Some teens lack the knowledge and experience of court
procedures to obtain a waiver. Some cannot attend court if their hearing occurs during
school hours. Some judges are strongly pro-life. Although the Supreme Court requires
judges to issue a waiver if the teen is mature or if an abortion is in her best interest,
some judges routinely deny petitions.
Law contributes to family breakdown: Studies by the Alan Guttmacher
Institute show that the vast majority of adolescents, particularly those 15 years of
age or younger, involve their parents in an abortion decision. A group which successfully
overturned a California consent law said: "The statute operates only on young
women who do not consult their parents with the news of pregnancy because the family is
unsupportive, in crisis, dysfunctional or abusive...For these young women, the statute
tests the already difficult relationship between parent and child, undermining the very
goals it purports to promote." Some teens risk physical abuse or abandonment if
she tells a parent about her pregnancy.
Laws not needed and may be dangerous: A study conducted by
Planned Parenthood found that 61 percent of minors who had abortions
discussed their plans with at least one parent before undergoing the
procedure. Of those minors who did not inform their parents of their
abortions, 30 percent had histories of violence in their families, feared
the occurrence of violence, or were afraid of being kicked out of their
homes. The American Association of University Women states:
"While the intent of such laws is to enhance family communication,
the failure to guarantee confidentiality often deters young people from
seeking timely services and care resulting in increased instances of
sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and late term
An ACLU briefing paper states:
"...such laws are unnecessary for stable and
supportive families, and they are ineffective and cruel for unstable, troubled families.
Such laws cannot transform abusive families into supportive ones, nor can they reduce the
alarmingly high rate of teenage pregnancy. Instead, they only add to the crushing problems
faced by pregnant teenagers: They create delays that increase the medical risks of
abortion and effectively eliminate the option of abortion for many minors. Tragically,
those minors in greatest need of confidential medical care are often the very ones whose
access to care is delayed." 8
The above essay is for informational purposes only. It is not to be
interpreted as legal or medical advice. Laws change frequently.
The following sources of information were used in the preparation and
updating of this essay. The Internet links are not necessarily still intact.
Willard Cates, Jr. & David Grimes, "Morbidity and Mortality of Abortion in
the United States," Abortion and Sterilization, Jane Hodgson, ed., Grune and
Stratton, New York NY, (1981), Page 158
Rachel Gold, "Abortion and Women's Health: A Turning Point for America?,"
New York: Alan Guttmacher Institute, New York, NY, (1990), Pages 29-30.