Five Myths About Youth-Targeted Abortion Laws


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.

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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.”

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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.

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To schedule an interview with contact director of communications Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • purrtriarchy

    A few months ago there was a young lady of 16 who was denied abortion by a judge. She had been adopted and her foster parents were pro life. She attempted to get a judicial bypass. The judge denied her request on a technicality, and on the fact that she was apparently too immature to get an abortion.

    I still wonder what happened to her.

  • P. McCoy

    If the young woman or girl has been a victim of sexual.abuse/assault resulting in a pregnancy by her father, uncle, cousin, brother, grandfather, stepfather, or mother’s boyfriend and mother or other family members just won’t believe it, then imagine the horror about the.victim having to beg her deniers or attackers for consent to get an abortion-monstrous!

    • Ineedacoffee

      Exactly, its horrific to even contemplate

  • Refugee

    This article gave me an Aha! Moment with regards to parental consent /notification. So as a minor you cannot make a decision to have an abortion (or any other medical procedure). But if you are a minor and have a child, by virtue of now being a parent you are able to consent to that child having an abortion (or other medical procedure) but still cannot consent to your own. Is it just me or is there giant disconnect there?

  • Refugee

    Another disconnect occurs to me. Many of the same states that have parental notification/consent laws also have laws restricting a pregnant woman’s right to decline life saving medical treatment. If I have given birth to a child, I would make decisions about my medical treatment and that of the child. So as a parent, I can only make medical decisions for my child once it is outside of my body? Is it just me or does anyone else see this?

    • kitler

      Good points you make.

      It’s all about the fetus. That’s why. They don’t actually give a shit about the health of women or their born children. Just protecting fetal life.

      • Refugee

        I don’t see it as even being about that. To me, it is painting pregnant women as being incapable of making sound decisions.

        • kitler

          Infantilazation of women.

          Which is also why they say women and teens should not have access to abortion or contraception because they will “be used by men”. But somehow, forced pregnancy is BETTER???

          • Ella Warnock

            Men can’t ‘use’ women in the absence of birth control? How is it better if she’s ‘used’ and he goes along his merry way, leaving her with an unwanted pregnancy that came about from a lack of birth control? Ugh, just typing that made me dizzy. Utterly senseless.

          • kitler

            Because…

            Marriage will solve that problem. OT law is really the only answer, Ella. Then everyone will behave like perfect moral creatures!

          • Ella Warnock

            Oh yeah, I forgot. Silly me.

  • http://icah.org ICAH

    Thank you for pointing this out! The statistic has been replaced to be more relevant to the ways homes and families aren’t always safe. It now reads: In 2011, 3.7 million incidents of abuse and neglect were reported and over 90 percent were attributed to parents and relatives and links to the most recent data from the CDC.