The Case against Parental Notification for Underage Abortion

Abortion is a highly controversial subject of debate. With impending presidential elections, it will surely resurface as a constantly examined issue in the upcoming months. Recently, there have been several pieces of legislation suggesting that doctors who perform abortions on underage females should first be required to notify the patient’s parents, requesting parental consent prior to performing the procedure.

These suggestions have risen out of the debate that abortion has become a nationwide epidemic which frees women from the responsibility of accounting for the consequences of their sexual behaviors. With little success in the conservative attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade, and frustrations high over being unable to restrict adult women’s decisions over their bodies, politicians are now targeting underage girls who make the choice to terminate unwanted pregnancies.

Supporters of the legislation claim that girls under the age of eighteen have no legal rights in our society, and should therefore be unable to make the decision over terminating a pregnancy without first notifying and discussing their situation with parents. Although young women may not be able to vote or drink legally, they can certainly exist in today’s society, free from parental supervision, at the age of sixteen, and in some cases even earlier. They can work, generate income, quit school with no repercussions, drive, and essentially, take care of themselves. If this situation is possible, then it should certainly be possible for these girls to make these life-altering decisions regarding their bodies.

Critics of the case against parental notification have also claimed that the abortion procedure puts the teen’s life at risk. However, it is important to ask whether or not these people have taken into consideration the fact that if girls were unable to have abortions, we would face the risk of young mothers hiding their pregnancies, and there would most likely be an increase in the number of stillborn or unhealthy babies born out of wedlock and most likely abandoned soon after birth.

Some maintain that allowing underage girls to undergo abortions without notification of their parents would undermine the family structure and result in a lack of communication between parents and children. This argument, however, does not seem logical. To undermine something implies that this thing (i.e. communication) exists between the parents and child prior to the conception of the unwanted pregnancy. Supposing that parents and their daughters communicate effectively, with trust and love, there would seem no reason for the girls not to trust their parents’ reactions enough to present their parents with their current circumstances. Why would they choose to omit this “mistake” from their list of issues to communicate? Most of the girls seeking abortion without parental consent are doing so because of a lack of communication or family structure in the first place, beyond a fear of punishment.

If parents have a “right to know” what their children are doing in this country, then presumably they should already be involved in their children’s lives to the degree that they would be aware if their children were having sex in the first place and take the necessary and responsible measures to make sure that unwanted pregnancies do not occur. This is an intensely personal decision that must be made jointly by every parent and their children. As parents, it is their responsibility to educate their children about reproductive processes and consequences and together, with their children, choose the correct method of prevention.

If parents are mainly concerned about being publicly criticized, humiliated, and reputed as “bad parents” because their child underwent a “secret” abortion procedure, perhaps those individuals have already earned the reputation of a bad parent as their child felt that she could not come to them in a desperate situation. The focus should be on the underlying issues that caused the teen to have sex, presumably unsafe sex, which are often psychological and emotional. If parents are meant to protect, love, and help their children, then it would seem more reasonable to offer these confused, troubled young girls a safe, trusting environment, free of judgment, but filled with education about the options she has and the reasons why her prior decisions resulted in these consequences. How else would young women learn from their mistakes?

Remember that these are young girls who may feel that they have the knowledge to make adult decisions without recognizing the real consequences of making these choices. Making the decision to have sex may seem like an easy one for them, but if they are faced with making a decision about aborting a pregnancy, then it is a decision whose physical, psychological, and emotional results they will have to carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Many abortion critics feel as though women simply make the decision to terminate pregnancy and feel completely free and happy thereafter, willing and able to engage in intercourse freely and promiscuously. But this is rarely the case. When a woman has to make a decision about cells in her body potentially forming a child which she will have to carry to term and care for for the rest of her life, she lives with the “What ifs” for the rest of her life, and that is punishment enough.

An alternative suggestion to the concern that parents have about their children having abortions without their notification, would be to focus on building a strong relationship with their children so that they would feel comfortable coming to them if they ever were in this situation. Another suggestion would be to require parental notification in situations where the patient is under the age of sixteen. However, the only way to decrease the incidence of abortion in this country is to educate.