activists repeatedly claim that state laws requiring parental involvement
(such as notification or consent) for minors to obtain abortions have
been a major contributing factor to declining abortion rates among minors
in the United States.
Michael New, a visiting fellow at the antiabortion advocacy organization
Family Research Council, posted an analysis on the organization’s
Web site that he claims "demonstrates that state level parental involvement
laws are effective in reducing the incidence of abortion among minors."
New’s analysis, which has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal,
has serious methodological flaws. Like many previous studies on the
subject, it is not able to substantiate the claim.
there is strong evidence that the decline in minors’ abortion rates
is largely the result of fewer teen pregnancies, which, in turn, reflect
better contraceptive use among adolescents. Moreover, the evidence suggests
that even in the absence of parental involvement laws, some six in 10
minors involve at least one parent in their decision to have an abortion.
Mandating this involvement can be harmful to some minors.
There is no strong
evidence that parental involvement laws have prevented many minors from
- Most studies purporting
to show a significant impact of such laws suffer from a range of serious
methodological flaws. One common flaw of these studies (including New’s)
is that they track abortions by state of occurrence, not by state of
residence. By failing to account for minors traveling to neighboring
states to obtain an abortion, it is impossible to prove that parental
involvement laws caused overall declines in minors’ abortion rates,
even if they may succeed in shifting the occurrence of abortions from
one state to another.
- Minors’ abortion
rates have been declining steadily for years, both in states with and
without parental involvement laws. Even in states with such laws, the
declines often started well before these statutes became effective.
- A study published
in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006 found that in
the period immediately following implementation of a Texas parental
notification law, the abortion rate among teens aged 15-17 in the
state fell more sharply than it did among 18-year-olds, who were not
subject to the law. The authors concluded that the law was
associated with reduced abortion rates among minors and an increase
in the birth rate among older minors. However, given the design of this
study, causality cannot be proven. If the law has had this effect, it
likely reflects the fact that all states bordering Texas, with the exception
of New Mexico, also have a mandatory parental involvement law, which
makes it extremely difficult for Texas minors to seek an abortion elsewhere.
The sheer size of the state contributes to that difficulty. Should additional
states enact such laws, thus giving the minority of teens who seek abortions
without involving parents fewer places to turn, these types of restrictions
may begin to have a measurable impact on adolescent abortion rates.
Declines in minors’
abortion rates are largely the result of declines in their pregnancy
- Declines in minors’
abortion rates reflect the fact that fewer minors are becoming pregnant
in the first place. Between 1989 and 2002, the pregnancy rate among
minors aged 15-17 declined 43% to a historic low.
- Most (77%) of the
reduction in the pregnancy rate among minors was the result of improved
contraceptive use among sexually active minors; the remainder (23%)
was attributable to some minors waiting longer to initiate sex.
involvement can be harmful
- The most vulnerable
and scared teens are put at greatest risk. Forcing teenagers to disclose
to their parents that they are pregnant or seeking an abortion may place
some teens at risk of physical violence or abuse. According to a 1992
study, about one-third of teenagers who did not tell their parents about
their decision to seek an abortion had experienced violence in their
family, or feared that violence would occur or that they would be forced
to leave home.
- Legal impediments
to teens’ access to abortion services can result in teens’ delaying
abortions until later in pregnancy, when they carry a greater risk of
complications and are also more expensive to obtain.
- Many medical, public
health and youth-serving organizations have consistently opposed laws
and policies requiring mandatory parental involvement for abortion services.
These organizations-made up of professionals who study and work most
closely with teens-include the American Academy of Family Physicians,
the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians
and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association and the Society
of Adolescent Medicine, among others. They agree that health care providers
have an obligation to encourage adolescents to talk to their parents
about sexual activity and reproductive health care, and that they have
an important role in facilitating such conversations. At the same time,
however, they uniformly state that minors should not be forced to involve
their parents in their decision to obtain an abortion.