Like Literacy Tests Before Them, Parental Notification and Consent Laws Are Meant to Punish and Humiliate

Birmingham, Alabama Planned Parenthood
was put on state probation after an
undercover "sting" operation by anti-choicers discovered that employees seem to
be bending the rules on parental notification for minors. This situation is
incredibly frustrating for people with a non-misogynist values system, because
while we all think it’s stupid for abortion providers to break the law, no
matter how unjust, it’s also hard not to sympathize with workers who struggle
with normal human compassion for young women who are in danger of being forced
to give birth against their will for the crime of being a minor.

It’s also incredibly hard not to get frustrated at the
disingenuous posturing of forced birthers on both parental notification laws
and laws requiring clinics to report sexual abuse of minors. To hear
anti-choicers brag on themselves for supporting these laws and these stings,
you’d think they care about child sexual abuse, statutory rape, and the
well-being of girls. But of course, that can’t really be true for a couple of
reasons. One, they’re not running sting operations in maternity wards, aimed at
turning in hospital staff that doesn’t report statutory rape when minors give
birth. Two, it’s just beyond the pale to suggest that it’s helpful or caring
towards actual victims of sexual assault to force them to give birth against
their will. In fact, I would call that attitude "punishing," or perhaps

And make no mistake. Parental notification and consent laws
may be sold to the public as a way to keep parents in the loop in their
children’s lives and medical decisions, but the real purpose of the laws are to
force teenage girls into unwanted motherhood, full stop. Again, you can see
that this is true because teenage girls are free to bear children without
notifying their parents or getting permission. But it’s more than that. When
you look at how the laws work in real life, it gets even more disturbing how
true it is that this is all about forcing teenage girls to give birth against
their will for the "crime" of having sex outside the bounds prescribed by

It’s interesting that this happened in Alabama, which was
one of the states famous in the past for creating elaborate schemes to deny
black citizens their rights, often without coming out and officially saying so.
And even though federal legislation has wiped away many of those schemes, it’s
important to revisit how these laws worked, because the "legislate for an
official goal while promoting a hard right agenda" method has changed aims, but
has not gone away. For instance, Rachel Maddow recently put
together a report on the pre-1965 laws to prevent black citizens from voting
laws that often were promoted under the misleading term "literacy tests." These
tests were ostensibly to make sure that voters had a basic understanding of
civics in order to vote but they actually existed to make sure that black
citizens couldn’t vote while white citizens passed with flying colors. Black
applicants for voter registration were often asked impossible questions (with
reports of even being asked to guess how many marbles in a jar), and a board of
state officials dedicated to segregation determined subjectively if you passed.
That determination was made not by actual answers to the questions so much as
by the color of your skin.

I bring this up because while literacy tests are illegal
nowadays, right wing legislators still take delight in writing disingenuous
legislation aimed at destroying people’s basic rights while pretending to do
something else. And parental notification is a stellar example of how a law
masquerading as something intended for the well-being of girls and their
families is actually about maximizing pain and misery for sexually active young
women. This isn’t about the Oppression Olympics or trying to equate one kind of
injustice with another, but that the right wing returns to this bag of
political tricks over and over.

On paper, getting parental permission for an abortion
doesn’t seem like it would be that hard, right? No harder than enrolling a kid
in school, or signing a permission slip for a field trip, right? You’d think,
but in reality, parental notification laws are very good at forcing unwilling
teenagers into motherhood. Because the point of the law is to force childbirth,
the burden of proof that a parent has been notified gets ridiculously,
impossibly high. This
blog post records some of the issues at stake.
Did you know that the law
often requires both parents to sign off, even if one has skipped town and
hasn’t been heard from in 15 years? And even if a girl walks in the door with
both parents, the question is, how do you prove
these are her parents?  There’s not an ID
card that says, "My name is X and my legal guardians are Y and Z." From the

So, you can (and do) have the
situation where a girl’s mother and father come to the clinic with her, but do
not have IDs, social security cards, or birth certificates, so the clinic sends
the girl to the courthouse, since she is legally unable to notify her parents,
who are standing next to her.

Judicial bypass has become a joke in some places, as well. Last
year, I
interviewed Helena Silverstein about her research in this area,
and she
discovered that many judges simply refuse to process judicial bypass laws. Sometimes
it’s because they’re too busy, but often it’s because they support forced
childbirth for teenagers.

It’s hard to say how many teenage girls are forced to give
birth against their will every year because of these laws; after all, women who
are determined not to have a baby will often jump through as many hoops as
necessary to do so. But in the end, the hoop-jumping itself becomes the
punishment for these young women who had sex without permission from misogynist
blowhards. And it’s this sadism, this will to force teenage girls to go through
heart-breaking bureaucratic humiliation in order to get a basic medical
procedure that makes me the most skeptical of all of anti-choicers who posture
and pretend to care a fig for the well-being of teenage girls.

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  • crowepps

    Since they often use the comparison of ‘she can’t get her ears pieced without parental permission’ I’m trying to imagine one of those quickie kiosks in the mall requiring both parents to show up, in person, with proof that they are indeed the parents, or go get the court’s permission before allowing the girl to pay them $20 and pick out her bling.


    Nope, can’t imagine it. I know several girls who got a friend to sign their ‘permission’ slip’, to their parents’ disgust.

  • harry834

    I want every person – lib, conserv, etc – to answer this two-part essay question:

    A.) if a girl doesn’t get the ear rings or tickets to R-rated movie, what types of things may happen to her?

    B.) if a girl doesn’t get an abortion, what types of things may happen to her? Bear in mind this girl is pregnant (non-pregnant girls don’t need abortions)

    For both A and B, Talk about consequences related to emotions, emotional health, and physical health as well as other types of consequences.

    Any of y’all can give this essay exam to anyone online you like. I’ll grade it later and get others to advise me on how best to grade them.

  • amanda-marcotte

    The answer to B) is, "She’ll be forced to give up that baby to a deserving Christian married couple, and learn a very hard lesson about how women aren’t here to live their own lives but to serve others, so keep your legs shut until you’re married."


    That, I think, is the major point of disagreement.

  • drshell

    This is such an anguished issue for me. I hate that consent laws are used by anti-choice misogynists, because as a feminist and generally decent person of course I sympathize with scared pregnant girls, but as a parent…don’t even try to perform a medical procedure on my child without notifying me. How can I claim a position of integrity if I say parental notification before medical procedures should be the law, except in this one case, because in that case the law conflicts with my personal feelings? How can I say that parents of daughters don’t deserve all of the same rights that I enjoy as the mother of a son? For me, I would want notification before a daughter’s abortion for the same reason I would want notification before my son had anything medical done to him–I want to be there. Should we legislate around the “good” parents in the effort to thwart the “bad” ones? Ugh. Someone help me out of this ethical dilemma, please.

  • amanda-marcotte

    Is actually simple.  Instead of trying to force your daughter to trust you, earn her trust.  Most pregnant girls go to their parents for help, regardless of the law.  If your daughter feels so unsafe she’s gone behind your back, then your problem is to start asking where trust broke down and what you need to do to regain her trust. Bringing the law in and threatening her with forced childbirth as punishment for not trusting you is the worst way to earn her trust.  I think a daughter whose parents use the law to replace trust in relationships shouldn’t be surprised when their children hate them, and cut off all ties.


    Parents of sons don’t have "more" rights.  Your son is permitted to have a sex life without your permission, as well.  

  • jodi-jacobson

    As the mother of two kids ages 10 and 13, I agree with Amanda 1000 percent.


    My kids and I talk about these issues all the time, using appropriate moments (call them "teachable moments" if you want), their own questions, my questions, things that come up that we all just end up discussing….I can not imagine that they don’t feel comfortable coming to me.  I don’t believe they feel intimidated, uncomfortable, threatened or in any other way obstructed from being honest with me…in part because i have also shared with them my own past when appropriate and things that I have been through, so they know I am not going to be judgmental in a way that would make them fear conversations.


    But if one of them did not feel comfortable, then I would accept that.  

    The fact is as Amanda says, you can’t bring the police and the judiciary into a situation to force your child to trust you.  Trust is something built up over years of discussion, action, respect, support and appropriate setting of boundaries.


    Moreover….if in fact a parent has a very rigid approach to some issues and a teen senses that their entire life will be affected by making a decision "to please their parents," that teen must have the right to decide what is best for them in such a profound instance.


  • concernedmom

    For Part A: what may happen if a girl doesn’t get tickets to an R rated movie- she probaby goes to another movie :) If she wants her ears pierced, & the store refuses without parental consent, then she needs to get it. Kids under 18 are the responsibiliy of their parent/guardian by law. I believe that parents need to be involved & tuned in to the issues their teenagers are facing. Good communication with your adolescent is the best way to share your values & the consequences of any decisions they might choose…

  • concernedmom

    I agree with Dr.Shell, as like her, I would want to be notified if my minor daughter were to attempt to have an abortion. I would want to be there, to discuss all the circumstances involved, to be supportive as a parent should be, when any emergency affects my child. A minor is not an adult, so it is up to her parent(s) to offer sound guidance in anything as serious as an unplanned pregnancy…

  • crowepps

    Should we legislate around the "good" parents in the effort to thwart the "bad" ones? Ugh. Someone help me out of this ethical dilemma, please.

    It’s pretty easy to sort out your ethical dilemma – the "good" parents are the ones whose children voluntarily inform them.  The "bad" parents are the ones from whom the children hide what’s going on.

  • sschoice

    It’s really not necessary to make the point that these restrictive laws are MEANT to “Punish and Humiliate” (as the title of Amanda’s post above says) to make the point that they have the EFFECT of punishing and humiliating the people they target, older adolescent women.  “Adolescent women” is probably a better term anyway than “teenage girls” which is a phase that doesn’t really assume that most of them, even younger teens, have the potential agency to make a decision to have an abortion or carry a pregnancy to term.  It’s hard to read the minds of the legislators and lobbyists who support these laws, but if you looked at the ones who came together to work out compromises that support these laws staying in place with minimal challenge to make them more liberal or do away with them complete, you’d find it includes a lot of people who consider themselves “pro-choice” where abortion is otherwise concerned, at least in keeping it nominally legal for adult women with the money to pay full cost for it, or who have insurance that covers it. 
    Look, for example, at legislators who run for office who say they are pro-choice – and win the enthusiastic endorsement of every national pro-choice group involved in their state or district — while supporting “reasonable regulations” and “common ground” which almost always means they support some sort of parental notification or consent law (usually referred to collectively as a parental involvement law).
    It’s hard to say that politicians and political activists who support parental involvement laws really “mean” to punish adolescent women, but it’s pretty easy (though really politically unpopular) to say that politicians and activists who support parental involvement laws are usually oblivious to how these laws have the effect of punishing and humiliating them.  We can even prove that because there’s coordinated national made to educate young women on bypass procedures that would allow them to get an abortion without involving at least one of their parents.  There are groups here and there like Jane’s Due Process in Texas that do an admirable job of providing information and referrals for minors to lawyers who help them with a judicial bypass, but there’s no effort we know of in any state with parental involvement laws to simply educate students in their school curriculum, in sex education classes or not, on how to go to the local courthouse and ask a clerk for help in applying for a judicial bypass.  This is a process which it’s assumed some minors will do who want a judicial bypass, and provisions are usually in place at least by default for clerks to offer minors some sort of legal representation or assistance in filing for the bypass.  That’s not to say that there is no curricula being taught in any public high school in the country addressing this, but there isn’t any movement to do this that’s well known or that we’re aware of ever having been tried.   It’s ironic that it seems much less controversial for a sex education curriculum to teach minors how to put a condom on than it is to educate them on judicial bypass procedures.  The former has a lot of controversy associated with it, but the latter is unheard of.

    If abortion really ought to be a right for mature minor women to consider and choose if they think it’s in their best interest, at least potentially for those able to negotiate judicial bypass procedures, there ought to be some effort to educate them through curricula in their schools on how to get it while conforming to the laws that apply to them, obtaining them from clinics in their community or nearby.  But we don’t know of any effort that’s been made to do that besides one which we’ve only heard anecdotally of in some Midwestern state (maybe Nebraska?) which at least sometime maybe 20 years ago had a state law that required schools to teach students about their state’s bypass procedures.
    A bigger problem than anti-choice actions like Lila Rose’s “stings” is that pro-choice advocacy groups nationally have followed the lead of the Democratic party and the polls in general which supports parental involvement laws.  Also, professional organizations like the American Psychological Association (APA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) who with similar professional organizations historically have been the most authoritative and effective opponents are today less involved in determining what parental involvement laws are enacted or how they are enforced, though their positions on these issues haven’t changed much since the peak of public support for these positions some 30-40 years ago.  National pro-choice groups nominally oppose parental involvement laws like they oppose they Hyde amendment, meaning that one can probably find some position paper or press release on their websites opposing these laws, and before or after apparent campaign failures like national health reform under Clinton 15 years ago or Obama last year (at least) there’s some call for the Hyde amendment to be overturned.  But there is no sustained effort being made to overturn ingrained anti-choice laws and policies like existing parental involvement laws which in most states have been in effect now nearly 20 years, like the Hyde amendment which has been in effect for going on 35 years.  It may be that while it’s relatively easy for a group to issue some idealistic position paper true to the "radical pole" it’s harder to put that into political action, especially if the political consensus is opposed to it, as is the case with overturning or reducing the restrictions imposed by parental involvement laws.

    If one REALLY wants to effectively challenge ingrained restrictions like parental involvement laws and restrictions on public funding of abortion services, a truly radical (“to the root”, effective, measurable) thing one could do would be to educate young and poor people in their school curriculum on the laws and processes in their states for how to get a judicial bypass of parental involvement laws and, to the extent their state allows, Medicaid funding for abortion.  That would have the effect of ensuring that young people are able to realize the right that they at least nominally are supposed to have to access abortion and get public funding for it in situations the laws say they have a right to do so.  It would also help bring to the attention of professionals and politicians inadequacies in those laws where women who according to the law would deserve a bypass and public funding aren’t able to do what the laws say they ought to be able to do.
    That is also freaking EASY to do, beginning with just encouraging students to pass out copies of the state statutes in class or link online curricula to websites that have their state’s statutes for parental involvement laws and Medicaid funding criteria.  We know that’s easy to do, we’ve encouraged our supporters to do that, and really we shouldn’t expect high school students to be kicked out of school for doing so.  If a student is careful to follow the rules for writing reports or newspaper articles they shouldn’t get in trouble for countering "ignorance of the law" among young people, unless there is still some Jim Crow-era law being enforced that says minors, like women and people of color in the Jim Crow south, needn’t or can’t be taught how to read or do math on these subjects, at least.


    But that’s not what most national pro-choice groups and the Democratic party seems to want to do with young pro-choice activists.  No, young pro-choice activists are supposed to act like cheerleaders for the partisan political process.  They’re encouraged to do little more than act in ways that help raise money, get votes, and (these days) create social networking profiles on Facebook and Myspace for bandwagons that involve mass numbers of young people every two or four years, and essentially disappear from campus after the elections, as was seen to  happen after Obama’s election (and before him Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter) and the failure all but by overt design to effectively argue for including elective abortion coverage in national health reform in ways that would benefit people in relatively anti-choice states.  And while we hear a lot about the compromises proposed by anti-choice politicians like Representative Stupak from Michigan and Senator Nelson from Nebraska, we hear almost nothing from the pro-choice community critical of Obama or other nominally pro-choice politicians when they make statements supportive of anti-choice laws, policies, and “compromises” like those from Stupak and Nelson.  Young people might be better informed voters and citizens if they heard more about such things.
    It’s probably asking too much for the political powers that be to take the lead in this, but we’d like to see bloggers like Amanda who have the time and resources to do a better job than we could to write about what young people in conservative states like the one she grew up and recently moved from can do to overturn or at least reform existing anti-choice laws and policies like these which the mainstream of the pro-choice community and Democratic party seems to tolerate if not support.
    If that’s not done, if there isn’t a movement supporting a minor’s right to abortion and a poor woman’s right to what public funds are available especially in the most conservative states and communities, young people and abortion providers who try to help them will be all the more vulnerable to antis like Lila Rose who will be seen as supporting enforcement of laws that the public seems to overwhelmingly support, without any dissenting voices besides those targeted and accused by groups like “Live Action” — and that affects abortion providers just as much in states who never had the legacy of Jim Crow segregation laws and literacy tests.


    —southern students for choice, athens

  • jodi-jacobson

    I understand what you are saying.  However, I think that is par for the course in a family environment in which open communication is a fact of daily life, not as a matter of law enforcement.


    What about the girls whose pregnancies are the result of incest?


    Or who fear violence or coercion at the hands of their parents?


    If you and your child have a good and open relationship, they will come to you.  These laws most adversely affect those who could not and would not engage with their parents for real reasons.  There is an important distinction here.

  • drshell

    See, I’m afraid that’s a little naive, honestly, and maybe even unfair. I trusted my mother, and she was a “good” mother, but that didn’t mean I wanted to tell her everything about my sex life, and I don’t see that as her fault. I’m only saying there’s another way to view this kind of law–the same way we view any other medical procedure performed on a minor. I’m trying to wrap my head around why abortion should be an exception, and the issues of incest or poor parent-child relationships are real issues, of course I’m not denying that, but that’s different from laws about minors and parental consent regarding medical treatments. The school can’t even give my kid an aspirin without my consent. What is the legal justification for making abortion different?

    Please understand that I’m not trying to argue with you; I am completely pro-choice and I have honest ambivalent feelings about the consent issue.

  • harry834

    I’m happy you are posing these questions and concerns, Dr Shell. I look forward to watching this discussion grow.

  • jodi-jacobson

    I take at face value you are arguing as a parent, as am I, but I am also arguing from the point of view of what the data say and the reality of these laws.


    As you note, you didn’t tell your own mother about your sex life.  There are a million plausible reasons for that.  If your daughter became pregnant or your son impregnated someone and they decided to have an abortion but did not want to tell you about this, it is not unlike your own experience.


    The real issue is that from a public health and human rights perspective data and analysis show these laws are detrimental.  from an analysis by Guttmacher:


    • In 2008, 34 states had laws in effect that mandated parental involvement in minors’ abortions.
    • A literature search identified 29 studies of the impact of these laws on a range of outcomes.  The clearest documented impact of parental involvement laws is an increase in the number
      of minors traveling outside their home states to obtain abortion services in states that do not mandate parental involvement or that have less restrictive laws. [in other words…there is a reason that teens who do so go to great lengths to avoid engaging their parents]
    • Many studies reported a decline in minors’ abortion rate associated with parental involvement laws. However, most of these studies did not measure abortions among minors who leave the state, or stop coming into the state, because of the law.
    • Studies in Mississippi and Massachusetts, which incorporated data on minors traveling out of state, found no effect on the abortion rate, while one in Texas suggested that parental involvement laws lower abortion rates and raise birthrates if minors must travel long distances to access providers in states without such laws.  [In other words, poorer teens are forced into pregnancy.]
    • Several state studies found no short-term impact on pregnancy rates.

    So I am not sure where legislating these things gets us in regard to ensuring that we prevent as many unintended pregnancies as possible–because no surprise that the greatest proponents of these laws are also those who deny access to comprehensive sex education and to contraception–and to ensure that abortions that do occur take place as early as possible.  These laws achieve neither goal, while putting some teens at greater risk.


    I don’t think it is naivete….I am all in favor of parent and child communication.  but i never want to be in the position of forcing my daughter or son to communicate with me under threat of law….I do my best to make sure I prepare them for making mature decisions and hope they do so, notwithstanding that they, like me, will make mistakes along the way.



  • julie-watkins

    I think it boils down to pragmatics. Medical and social work professionals who deal with pregnant teens who want abortions or who deal, in the ER, with teens in a medical crisis after a backalley or homemade attempt are saying: teens who don’t want to tell their parents (for whatever reason) too often will take bad risks before involving parents. It might be they do have a good relationship and don’t want to disappoint. I’m not a parent, so I don’t have direct experience, but that’s the impression I get.
    can’t even give my kid an aspirin
    I my cynical opinion is the reason for that may be more CYA anti-lawsuit behavior rather than a real medical reason, especially when there’s no real immediate danger. (If it’s acute, then call ambulence, then the paramedics have the lawsuit risk, not the school.) So I think the asprin question doesn’t have much pertinence to the parental notification debate. For both teen and late abortion (both things legislators like to make laws about) I think the professionals dealing directly with the pregnant women have better validity for creating policies that will give better outcomes. (Better outcomes should be the criteria, not scoring points for the next election.)
  • amanda-marcotte

    Telling their parents, if it’s safe.  But once you bring force into the situation, then it ceases to be safe.  Good parents should want their daughters to come to them without being forced.


    Concerned Mom, your comments don’t acknowledge that a girl who is unable to either tell her parents or get the abortion will be forced to bear children against her will.  This has nothing to do with notifying parents.  This is about forcing childbirth on minors.  Anyone who cares about the well-being of children should not want them to be forced to go through that.  That’s child abuse.

  • amanda-marcotte

    Without your permission.  Think about that.


    At the end of the day, most responsible parents would rather have a daughter who doesn’t trust them get the abortion she wants than wait until it’s too late, and she’s put in a position where she has to have the baby.  Wouldn’t you?  Parents who obsess over control need to calm down and think about the results of that obsession, and how anti-choicers exploit it.  You wouldn’t want your daughter’s childish fears to put her in a position of forced childbirth, do you? 

  • niteowle

    Hi. Kind of new here. This is a great point. I have to ask those who advocate for parental conncent for abortion: would you also say that parental concent is needed for obstetrical care if the teenager decides to give birth? And if not, why?

  • drshell

    Of course I don’t want that, Amanda, but I’m trying to separate what I want from what is legal. Parental consent for medical treatment in general is a CYA, as Julie points out. In the rare event that something goes awry with an abortion procedure, I’m not worried about suing someone but about not being there–or being called–if my daughter is in pain. I would also want to know in case there were later complications–again, I know this is rare, but it’s not impossible, and care could be delayed if I don’t know what I’m watching for.

    The disconnect here is that I’m viewing the issue from the perspective of someone who would want to help, not hinder, and you’re constructing that as “control,” which I think is unnecessarily harsh of you, but at the same time I don’t mind being a “controlling” parent. I try to be involved in and aware of what’s going on in my kid’s life. I feel like that’s part of the job.

    I do not want young women pressured into having babies. I also do not want them pressured into attending church, staying abstinent, wearing their hair a certain way, bowing their heads when men are present, wearing burkas, any number of other things that their parents are legally allowed to impose upon them. I don’t like it; in fact I hate it. But they would hate that I’m raising my son atheist. Unfortunately, unless something gets categorized as abuse, parents do have legal control over minor children, and I can’t find the legal loophole for abortion.

  • drshell

    One more quick point about the control thing: I don’t see this as forcing my child to confide in me under penalty of law. The law doesn’t criminalize the child’s behavior, but that of the medical practitioner. It’s the doctor who can’t perform treatment without consent. That’s not quite the same as threatening your child with jail time for not talking to you. I understand the perspective, but again I’m not looking to have the state give me control over my child; I don’t view the issue that way.

  • crowepps

    Well, you’re the one who brought up the concept of dividing parents according to those standards when you suggested that "good" parents deserve to be notified and it’s wrong to enable their children to cut them out of the decision making just because other teens, with "bad" parents, have ample justification for keeping their medical care secret.


    Aside from the issue of whether parents want to insert their advice into the decisionmaking or just take it out of the teen’s hands altogether, personally, I think aspirins and ear piercing and all those other ‘parents should know’ items are just a distraction.  The legal justification for making notification about abortion different is that our society is majorly conflicted on sexual issues, particularly at the point where teens start relationships including voluntary sex and getting pregnant (or being gay).  Parents want their children to be ‘popular’ with the opposite sex, they want them to be ‘in style’, they want them to ‘fit in’, they worry if they aren’t dating, they tell them their life plan ‘should’ include future marriage and children, BUT at the same time they don’t believe teens are capable of being seriously ‘in love’ and shouldn’t be having sex.


    Isn’t the entire POINT of being attractive to the opposite sex, dressing fashionably and dating to promote the idea of ‘love’ and selecting a ‘mate’ and becoming a ‘couple’?  Isn’t it blindingly obvious that sex is going to go right along with that if those couples have the capacity to wave goodbye as they drive away alone together?  And yet the parents of most teen couples who are having sex on a regular basis are totally ignorant, believe their child is still ‘innocent’ and don’t bother to give them any information because they’re ‘not old enough yet for sex’.


    If a teen is dating, his/her parents should take the initiative to bring up the subject of sex, to explain and help him/her access birth control, and my guess would be that a teen whose parents did so is going to feel safe going to them about a birth control failure.  This is definitely an issue on which it is much wiser to be proactive.

  • prochoiceferret

    The disconnect here is that I’m viewing the issue from the perspective of someone who would want to help, not hinder, and you’re constructing that as "control," which I think is unnecessarily harsh of you, but at the same time I don’t mind being a "controlling" parent. I try to be involved in and aware of what’s going on in my kid’s life. I feel like that’s part of the job.

    The same law applies to good parents (like, presumably, you), and bad parents (e.g. those who would disown the pregnant young woman, or who caused the pregnancy in the first place). Things get very hairy if a judge or some other third party steps in to sort things out. So if you don’t want to screw over the teens for whom parental notification would be a Bad Thing(tm), you have to keep this out of the realm of law—and in the realm of your own parenting.

    Unfortunately, unless something gets categorized as abuse, parents do have legal control over minor children, and I can’t find the legal loophole for abortion.

    Parental notification laws are a bad idea not because there is something abstractly and categorically unique about underage pregnancy, but because in practice, these laws harm more than help. You want to find some kind of loophole, but what’s the use of that if the legalisms don’t correspond to reality?

  • crowepps

    Unfortunately, unless something gets categorized as abuse, parents do have legal control over minor children, and I can’t find the legal loophole for abortion.

    You may not be aware of this, but when a minor child gets pregnant and gives the baby up for adoption, it is she and not her parents who has the right to sign or refuse to sign the paperwork.  This is so because the law presumes that pregnancy confers ‘adulthood’ as to reproductive matters.


    You might want to do a little reading up on HIPAA and PHI.  Here’s something interesting under Arizona state law:

    States have granted minors the right to consent for treatment and/or control access to medical records regarding STDs, pregnancy, substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, HIV and other sensitive conditions. If the parents signed the consent-for-treatment form, they have rights to the minor child’s medical records. If the minor child signs the consent-for-treatment form (under the circumstances permitted by state law), then medical records can only be disclosed to the parent with the minor’s signed authorization.

  • prochoiceferret

    One more quick point about the control thing: I don’t see this as forcing my child to confide in me under penalty of law. The law doesn’t criminalize the child’s behavior, but that of the medical practitioner. It’s the doctor who can’t perform treatment without consent.

    If you’re a young woman, with an unwanted pregnancy, and no provider would give you an abortion without consent, and you’re aware of how life-threatening performing an abortion yourself can be… I think you’d feel rather forced to confide.

    That’s not quite the same as threatening your child with jail time for not talking to you. I understand the perspective, but again I’m not looking to have the state give me control over my child; I don’t view the issue that way.

    Of course you do. Things look pretty different when you’re not the one in a desperate situation.

  • crowepps

    The disconnect here is that I’m viewing the issue from the perspective of someone who would want to help, not hinder, and you’re constructing that as "control," which I think is unnecessarily harsh of you, but at the same time I don’t mind being a "controlling" parent. I try to be involved in and aware of what’s going on in my kid’s life. I feel like that’s part of the job.

    I read somewhere that ‘help’ is doing something a person asks you to do, and ‘control’ is insisting something should be done because you think it would be best even though the person hasn’t asked you to interfer and doesn’t want that done at all.


    Being aware of what’s going on in your kid’s life is part of the job, being involved wherever they will allow you to be is great, but trying to make their decisions for them in a controlling, the adults-know-best manner drives them into secrecy and evasion.

  • crowepps

    I’m not looking to have the state give me control over my child; I don’t view the issue that way.

    The State, obviously, cannot ‘give you control’ over your child.  What it can do is pass laws which force teachers, counselors and medical practitioners to betray her confidences to you so that she has nowhere else to turn for help.  You may not view the issue as wanting ‘control’, but I’d bet she would.

  • julie-watkins

    Since I’m not a parent, I can only discuss by analogy, but I have had an abortion and am strongly pro-choice and aspects of this discussion relate to "child support"/"men’s rights" discussions I’ve had. I got into a productive (pun unintended) discussion with a frustrated guy who was saying how unfair it was that he wouldn’t get a choice about child support if his girfriend got pregnant and didn’t abort. I emphathized with his frustration and suggested "relationships are a risk" and "don’t get involved with a woman who might baby-trap you". My point being — same as being a parent of teenager — relationships take work. Anyone who want’s the law to enforce certain things isn’t treating that relationship with respect. If a there’s a good relationship, a woman will involve her partner with a pregnancy decision — or a teenager will confide with her parents (or with someone the parent would approve of, if she can’t deal with mom and/or dad knowing how "badly" she "failed"). (I’ve read accounts of parents who weren’t told until a few or more years later when their daughter had more self confidence. Their reported emotions were: disappointment, but glad their daughters went to that aunt or neighbor and didn’t go backalley or self-poison.)
  • concernedmom

    Ms.Marcotte mentioned I didn’t acknowledge [in earlier comment] that a girl who is unable to tell parents or get an abortion will be forced to bear children against her will & shouldn’t be forced to go thru that. So I just wanted to add my thoughts, here. I completely understand what you’re saying & nothing could be more traumatizing to a girl who was raped or even impregnated by a family member. If she couldn’t tell her parents, couldn’t get an abortion without parental consent, then what are her options? I agree it would be terrible to force her to have the baby- but what would you say she should do, in the situation described? If she is unable to get parental consent, I mean- & can’t get an abortion?

  • prochoiceferret

    Being aware of what’s going on in your kid’s life is part of the job, being involved wherever they will allow you to be is great, but trying to make their decisions for them in a controlling, the adults-know-best manner drives them into secrecy and evasion.

    This. I think this whole parental-notification-law debate may also be a proxy war of competing parenting styles… look at folks like DrShell here, who seem to dismiss the idea that their daughters might willingly approach them for guidance with an unwanted pregnancy, and thus THE LAW has to be written to make sure that happens. Versus those who keep the channels of communication open, not least on things like sexuality and contraception, and make it altogether natural that their daughters would seek their counsel if unwantedly pregnant.

  • colleen

    but what would you say she should do, in the situation described? If
    she is unable to get parental consent, I mean- & can’t get an


    Lila Rose! Is that you?



    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • concernedmom

    Yes, I definetly would advocate parental consent if my daughter were to decide to have her baby & sought OB care- because I would want to be involved, particuarly if she is a minor, in the entire process.

  • colleen

    Unfortunately, unless something gets categorized as abuse, parents do
    have legal control over minor children, and I can’t find the legal
    loophole for abortion.

     you’re concerned about, look at the age of consent laws in your state. In many of the states with parental notification/permission laws, girls are able to legally consent to sex without parental permission/notification at age 16 and yet cannot legally obtain an abortion without parental permission untill they are 18. My sense is that if the state thinks they’re old enough to consent to sex or old enough to carry a baby to term why  should abortion be the exception?






    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • vlwall

    It’s interesting that young women can legally decide to have sex with anyone, including adults, at the age of 16. Then we tell them they have to be 18 to legally get birth control or have an abortion. I believe the law has set them up for failure. If they don’t need permission to have sex, why do they need permission to prevent pregnancy, a natural occurance of having sex.

  • colleen

    If they don’t need permission to have sex, why do they need permission
    to prevent pregnancy, a natural occurance of having sex.



    Because punishing and humiliating women is blood sport for social conservatives.




    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • concernedmom

    All I asked was what does a teen do, in the case of not being able to get an abortion without parental consent? Go to a state that doesn’t require it? It would be awful for a girl to go thru a rape caused pregnancy, but if she’s under age, isn’t it illegal to leave her home state without parental consent, anyway? Just trying to riddle this out,is all…

  • colleen

     All I asked was what does a teen do, in the case of not being able to get an abortion without parental consent?

     That’s not true, you weren’t asking what a teen does. You clearly asked Amanda what a pregnant teenager should do to circumvent  parental consent laws which is why I put that bit in block quotes.

    To answer your question about leaving her home state I believe that some states threaten grandparents or  other concerned adults with jail time if they transport a teenager outside her home state to obtain an abortion without parental permission. What state do you live in? If you like I can find the applicable law.






    The only difference between the American anti-abortion movement and the Taliban is about 8,000 miles.

    Dr Warren Hern, MD

  • ahunt

    Here’s the thing, Kids.


    Damn straight I would want to know if my daughter was seeking an abortion.


    And the basic reasons she would not come to us would be…A) She does not trust us…B) She fears us, and.. C) She believes she would be forced to do that which she does not want to do.


    Our job is to see to it that none of these conditions exist.


    Legal coercion cannot create a healthy family dynamic, and as much as can relate to the rationale of mandated notification…I would be content with language allowing for the notification of a trusted adult.



    OKAY….hammer me. I’m a traitor to the cause.

  • crowepps

    Just look for "Fugitive Girl Act"

  • crowepps

    When I was a kid, the ‘traditional’ solution was drinking bleach.

  • mechashiva

    I’m not sure if this is across the board, but in at least some states, a minor is considered emancipated if she is pregnant. This is the legal basis for denying parental involvement laws for obstetrical care. The arguments made in favor of emancipating pregnant minors typically center more on issues of abuse and domestic violence, and are generally supported by liberals and conservatives alike (at least in my state).

    It is difficult to argue against emancipating pregnant minors unless you bring in the emotional knee-jerk issue of abortion.

  • prochoicegoth

    I understand your view completely. When I become a mother, I’m going to hope my children will come to me if they were to get pregnant OR get a partner pregnant. I too would want to know about an abortion so I could be there for my dauighter. I think in a time like that, a girl needs her parents, or at least her mother. However, that situation isn’t always ideal. There are parents that are abusive or will force their daughter to carry to term as a sort of punishment for not obeying the whole "don’t do it" rule. There are parents who may beat that girl to death for getting pregnant. It’s a hard situation, because it’s an issue with so many different scenarios that can play out. 

    It’s pro-choice or
    NO choice.

  • concernedmom

    Thumbs up to your comment!

  • ahunt

    I get this, PCG…you have no idea how much. One of these days, I’ll spill the story of my YDIL…and how she came to temporarily live at our house…as a senior in high school. I am all over the "bad parent" angle.


    But I would not have my child facing these decisions w/o a chosen trusted advocate.


    Can’t be done, I know. I’m just conflicted here.

  • lmwilker

    To be there through the whole process would mean you would have been there for the conception and that’s illegal. And icky.

    Because becomming a parent trumps being a minor? I was pregnant at 16. I did not want the baby. My parents were divorced. My mother was man hungry and first married the sadist who she was cheating on my dad with who brutally beat me, my brother and my mother. He was a porn fiend who exposed me to hard core pornography and who molested me and who remains a monster to this day. Her third husband was a drug smuggler. Her fourth husband was convicted of federal child pornography charges a month after her death and during all of this there were various lovers in various degrees of crazy, alcoholism, drug abuse, and mental breakdowns. My father married again and started a second family with a woman who told my brother and I to our faces that she did not like us, would never like us, and did not want us to be a part of “their” family. We were 9 and 11 at the time.

    As a result of this I became very promiscuous starting at age 15 though I had been highly sexed for years before. The only “sex ed” my mother ever provided was to tell me if I ever got pregnant I would be thrown out of the house. In 1980, at the age of 16 I became pregnant and I traveled to Lexington to try and obtain an abortion but was too far along. The Planned Parenthood people explained that I could go to Atlanta for a second trimester abortion where labor would be induced and it would be just like giving birth but with a dead baby at the end. They didn’t sugar coat it at all.

    I couldn’t make it to Atlanta. I had to skip school to get to Lexington. SO what I did was conceal the pregnancy and to remove my mind from what was happening to me I dulled the senses with loads of Bacardi 151, marijuana and cocaine. My parents didn’t know I was pregnant until after I gave birth.

    My daughter was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor that has taken her sight and I know I am responsible for that for soaking her brain in rum while it was developing. It’s a very rare type of tumor and I am sure of its cause. She also has lost one child to the state and is raising another one. When she became pregnant at 15 I forced her into foster care and refused to support her pregnancy. I knew there was no way I could be any good for a child I thought of as the bastard’s bastard. What I do know is my mother, who kept her promise and threw me out of the house with nothing but the clothes an my back and the baby in my arms on my 18th birthday, has been dead and gone since 2003 and here it is 40 years since I was 16 and this event negatively impacted my entire life and still impacts my life every day. That’s the difference.

  • concernedmom

    This testimony breaks my heart. I can not imagine anything sadder. And its sickeningly common. A grim reminder that family is the basis of society. Its all traced to the beginning: loving parents who stick together, respect themselves, their children’s well being, & the value of family cohesion. Drift away from that, & look around at the results…