UPDATE, July 1, 2:15 p.m.: This article was updated at ICAH’s request to reflect a more accurate portrayal of maltreatment and abuse of youth in the home.
Parental consent and notification laws are built on a series of myths about young people, families, abortion, and the judicial process.
State laws vary between requiring medical providers to notify adult family members to, at the extreme, requiring that two parents provide notorized consent before a young person can access abortion care. Currently, 38 states have mandated parental consent or notification laws. With those laws come a series of dangerous misconceptions that are creating barriers to health care for youth instead of increased resources and information.
Myth #1: “Parental involvement sounds like a good idea to me.”
In reality: Most young people already go to a trusted adult for support when making tough decisions about pregnancy options. But it’s not always a parent. “Parental involvement” is a phrase that asks us to assume all families are safe, trusting, helpful, supportive, and strong. But some young people live in a home where it’s not safe or comfortable to talk about sex or sexuality. In 2011, 3.7 million incidents of abuse and neglect were reported and over 90 percent were attributed to parents and relatives. That means “parental involvement” laws are extremely dangerous for young people who are already afraid of the judicial system, don’t have adult support, or risk violence or homelessness if forced to involve parents.
Myth #2: Judicial bypass keeps these laws safe and fair by protecting youth.
In reality: Judicial bypass is an available option and, in states like Illinois, the American Civil Liberties Union works very hard to provide excellent, free, and confidential support throughout the judicial bypass process. But it’s yet another terrifying and costly hoop to jump through—it’s a delay, not a solution. Any young person willing to disclose their most personal information to a lawyer and judge is doing so for a reason that’s important to them.
Let’s be honest. Even adults don’t like to go in front of a judge for a violation as small as a speeding ticket. Judicial bypass bears more similarity to a punishment for getting pregnant than a legitimate option for accessing health care in a timely, safe, and confidential manner.
Myth #3: “Notification” is less invasive and dangerous than “consent.”
In reality: In practice and in real life, notification and consent are brutally similar. The difference is largely conceptual.
Advocates for Youth describes the difference as:
Parental notification laws require written notification to parents by a medical provider before a young person can receive abortion services. Parental consent laws require that a young person obtain consent by one or both parents before an abortion can be performed.
They both mean contacting an adult family member and having them sign a piece of paper. The most extreme laws in North Dakota, Mississippi, Kansas, and Minnesota have forced parental consent or notification laws that must be signed by “both parents,” and in cases, notarized.
Myth #4: Young people get pregnant because they’re irresponsible and need guidance.
In reality: Young people aren’t getting the information and resources they need. Throughout the United States, we’re not doing a good job of providing the most basic sex education, contraception, and access to health care.
There are 23 states that mandate parental involvement, yet do not require sex education in schools. What’s more, 37 states don’t require sex education (if provided) to be medically accurate! In essence, these states are telling youth, “We won’t provide you with comprehensive or accurate sex education, but if you get pregnant it’s your fault and we won’t support you. We’ll just make it more difficult and expensive to get the health services you need.”
Myth #5: Young people aren’t mature enough to make these kinds of decisions.
In reality: Young people are quick to point out how illogical it is to say that youth aren’t mature enough to get an abortion, but they’re mature enough to parent. And yet, in states like Missouri and Illinois, youth are being required to prove their maturity as part of the judicial bypass process. These laws are telling young people: “We don’t care if you already have a child and are considered an adult by the state on every other way. You have to prove you’re mature enough to make this decision on your own.”
In reality, “parental involvement” is harmful and ineffective.
Youth need healthy consensual communication, improved resources, and access to ALL health care instead of the delay, harm, and danger caused by forced consent and notification laws.
The American Medical Association, the Society for Adolescent Medicine, the American Public Health Association, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, and other health professional organizations stand in agreement against mandatory parental involvement in abortion decision making. Organizations that work directly with young people like the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, Advocates for Youth, the Chicago Abortion Fund, Choice USA, Young Women United, and others are all working to raise awareness about these laws.
Visit StopPNA.org to read more about the work being done in Illinois.
Data from the Guttmacher Institute and Advocates for Youth.