Federalizing Parental Consent Isn’t Child’s Play

The push to federalize parental notification laws is back… and if last week’s hearing is any indication, it’s based on the same misguided arguments laced with a healthy dose of condescension towards young women and their private decisions.

Right now, most states require that a minor obtain the consent of a parent, grandparent, or other trusted adult before getting an abortion. While it would be great if everyone had an adult they could talk to, we know that’s not always the case. The alternative – going to court to obtain a judicial bypass – isn’t that pretty, either. So some young women travel to states that don’t require parental consent. 

H.R. 2288, the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (CIANA), seeks to put an end to all that by federalizing parental consent laws. As a result, many women won’t be able to obtain basic reproductive healthcare simply because of how old they are.

Thursday’s panel was full of patronizing, statistically questionable commentary that we’ve seen way too many times before.

Let’s break down some of the low points, courtesy of panelists Dr. Michael New, a sociologist at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and Professor Theresa Collett, of the St. Thomas University School of Law:

“State level parental involvement laws reduce the in-state abortion rate for minors.” 

 As I’ve argued before, a reduction in abortion rates doesn’t mean abortions aren’t happening. Dr. New also gleefully points out that requiring both parents to consent reduces the abortion rate even further. If we continue that line of logic (and I’m sure anti-choicers have), before you know it we’ll be proposing legislation requiring women of all ages to get the consent of everyone they know prior to obtaining an abortion.

“The Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act would lead to…better public health outcomes for teen girls.” 

It’s funny this was brought up, since neither panelist actually talked about the public health impact of parental notification laws. In states with parental consent laws, we’ve seen that young women are more likely to have abortions during their second trimester – a more expensive procedure with a higher risk of complications. Wouldn’t it follow, then, that less onerous restrictions would result in earlier, less risky procedures and better health outcomes?

“Opponents…have argued that passage of federal legislation in this area would endanger teens since parents may be abusive and many teens would seek illegal abortions. This is a phantom fear.”

Most young women can and will turn to parents or trusted adults when faced with an unwanted pregnancy. But every year, nearly 4 million women (including many young women) in the U.S. are victims of domestic violence. Others may be living in a home situation where honest and open dialogue just isn’t a reality. Sure, not every young woman is in that situation – but shouldn’t we be there for the young women who need us most?

They are right about one thing–use of the judicial bypass to avoid seeking parental consent is relatively rare. But if you’re facing an unwanted pregnancy and the clock is ticking, do you really have time to look up how to go about a judicial bypass? Do you have the ability to take off school or your part time job to go to court? And, let’s be honest, the prospect of going to court and pleading your case is kind of terrifying.

But the thing that’s most outrageous about CIANA is that it isn’t in the interest of young women’s health at all. In most states, minors are able to give consent for virtually every other area of their healthcare – from consenting to mental health services, to receiving prenatal care and obtaining HIV and STI testing–within their state or across state lines. That they’re attacking the right to access abortion demonstrates that this isn’t about protecting the public health of women under 18; it’s about making an already difficult-to-obtain procedure even harder to access for a particular segment of the population. 

The one bright spot of Thursday’s panel was the testimony of Rev. Dr. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, President and Dean of Episcopal Divinity School. After sharing a story of a 15-year-old woman she helped obtain an abortion, she counseled:

Certainly, we want young people to be able to turn to their parents. But when they can’t or won’t, we want to make it easier, not harder, for them to turn to other responsible adults and, most certainly, we don’t want to make it harder for their doctors to be their allies and advocates.

That’s advice we can only hope our legislators take into consideration when voting on CIANA.

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  • cmarie

    So how young do they have to be to require parental consent?  Is there a particular age at which this Federalized parental consent would come into play across the board? 

    “As a result, many women won’t be able to obtain basic reproductive healthcare simply because of how old they are”.  So how old are these women?   many thanks




  • prochoiceferret

    So how young do they have to be to require parental consent?


    For having a baby? Good question…

  • cmarie

    Gwen Emmons please….

    obviously without the above mentioned Federal Mandate, each state must have its own rules…. in some any seventeen year old seeking an abortion may need the consent of her parent or legal guardian.  In others maybe a much younger girl would not require it.  A federal mandate would obviously set up guidelines regarding the ages of girls (or young women) seeking abortions.  I’m just wondering what that age would be according to CIANA.

    Obviously children of ten or eleven have been sexually assaulted and therefore conceived.  If an abortion is necessary for a girl of that age, is it going to happen without the parents (or guardian or at least a close responsible adult, actively involved in the child’s life) even knowing?  It seems to me if your child has been sexually assaulted you should know about it  so you can prevent it from happening again.  I’m not saying that I’m in favor of CIANA.  Just asking exactly what it says about the ages of girls who it would affect.  thanks

  • crowepps

    Can we get a specific exemption included?  If the sexual assault was committed by the parent or guardian, then the parent or guardian is presumed to already know about it and their consent for the abortion is specifically waived.

    Personally, in the case of sexual assault, IMO the girl in question has the best information and the most informed opinion about whether getting her parents involved is a good idea.  If it is a good idea, then she will voluntarily involve them herself.  If it is not a good idea, say because they’re religious lunatics who will insist that the rape last for nine whole months of unwanted pregnancy, then I can’t see where insisting that she has no other choice but to tell them and criminalizing the actions of those who attempt to help her escape them is going to do anything but push the suicide rate higher.

  • cmarie

    crowepps I would hope you wouldn’t even have to ask for that.  Obviously, if the sexual assault was committed by the parent or guardian then not only should he not be providing consent, he should be in prison.  That would be like asking a rapist’s permission for his victim to get EC at the emergency room.  Actually that’s exactly what it would be.   If the father or guardian is raping his child, he’s already involved.  Of course the child should be able to talk with a trusted adult who is actively involved in her daily life and who will provide support (including support getting an abortion if that’s necessary) and support building a case against the abusive parent.  I finally just googled the subject.  It states “minors” but I wish the author would specify if that means anyone under 21— (which seems very unlikely to me.. ) or if they have to be under 18. 

  • gwenemmons

    I’m not sure if I agree with the notion that parents should be notified of a sexual assault.  Of course, I respect a parent’s desire to defend their child and protect her from harm, but I would uphold and honor a woman’s right to disclose her assault above all of that.  I agree with crowepps that “the girl in question has the best information and the most informed opinion about whether getting her parents involved is a good idea.”


    Overall, to me, opposing CIANA is about respecting, trusting, and honoring a young woman’s ability to determine her own destiny.  If we trust minors to make informed decisions about other aspects of their healthcare (and make no mistake, women seeking abortions receive unbiased, non-judgmental counseling from abortion providers prior to the procedure), this should be no different.

  • cmarie

    So is it under 21 or under 18?  And how old do you think a child should be before her parents are expected to raise and be responsible for her without being notified that she was the victim of sexual assault?  10?, 15?, 17?    What about children who are being abused by adults but not by their parents?  That does happen.  I just can’t imagine how you could help your daughter (or son if he’s a sexual assault victim) prepare for a court case against a rapist without knowing about the rape.

  • colleen

    And how old do you think a child should be before her parents are expected to raise and be responsible for her without being notified that she was the victim of sexual assault?

    I don’t undersetand why small government advocates want the state to do their parenting for them. Clearly if a child is so frightened of her parents that   she cannot tell them she has been raped those parents have failed in the most basic responsibilities of parenting. Likewise many parents injure or kill their minor daughters in this situation. My concern is with the pregnant children, not their  parents.


  • crowepps

    Unfortunately, State legislators are massively ignorant about the reproductive realities of life, and unless laws specifically state exemptions, there are none.  For instance, did you know that the flood of identical ‘no abortion unless you watch an ultrasound and listen to a description’ laws, aside from not having an exception for cases of rape and incest, doesn’t have an exemption when the fetus is dead?  I’ve personally had an ‘elective’ D&C abortion procedure to remove a dead fetus.  I really, really didn’t want to hear a description.

    And speaking of ignorance, as you may know I’m a court reporter.  I’ve worked on probably a half dozen cases where there was incest, and in about half of them the mother wanted the girl to shut up and withdraw the accusation so the paychecks would keep coming.

  • cmarie

    Gwen, I’d love to know the ages in question if CIANA were to pass.

    Many thanks

  • maiac

    What about children who are being abused by adults but not by their parents?”

    Yeah, are you at ALL familiar with the stats on child abuse (including sexual abuse)? Do you not understand that the VAST majority of abusers are either parents/step-parents/foster-parents (>50%) or other family members?


    Also, let’s get real on the reality that the majority of minors seeking abortions are in the 16 – 18 range.

  • crowepps

    Then first let’s acknowledge that YOUNG minors seeking abortions VOLUNTARILY involve a parent, and that it is the 16 to 18 year olds most likely to choose to act independently, and that the purpose of these laws actually is directed at enforcing the ‘rights’ of parents in hopes they will insist that their daughter complete a pregnancy she doesn’t want to complete.

    And let’s also acknowledge that these laws has no predictable impact on the number of abortions that are done.  In states where parental consent or parental notification laws have been passed, the abortion rate has sometimes gone down, sometimes gone up, and sometimes stayed the same.


  • colleen

    Why not do your own research and read the legislation?

  • gwenemmons

    Cmarie, they define “minor” as “an individual who has not attained the age of 18 years and who is not emancipated under the law of the State in which the minor resides.”

  • cmarie

    so under 18

    thank you