Parental notification laws harm women

More money should be put into sex education, family planning and proactive organizations.

Abby Bar-Lev

Parental notification laws do nothing in terms of keeping women safe or reducing abortion rates; contrarily, they are downright dangerous for young women.

Parental notification laws are becoming increasingly popular in various states throughout the country. More than 30 states now have some variant of parental notification laws on the books. Minnesota is, unfortunately, one of those states.

Though they vary from state to state in specifics, parental notification laws generally restrict a minor’s right to seek an abortion by necessitating the signatures of both parents, followed by a 48-hour waiting period before an abortion is allowed. If both signatures are impossible to attain or a minor wants to explain why she cannot obtain her parents’ signatures, she may seek a judicial bypass by presenting her case in front of a judge. Only then – if the judge deems the minor capable enough – can a minor be allowed an abortion.

It is important for parents to be involved in their daughters’ lives, and in an idealistic world, every daughter would feel comfortable speaking to both her mother and father about an unwanted pregnancy. In an idealistic world, both parents would be accessible. In an idealistic world, every home environment would be supportive. In an idealistic world, there would be no unwanted pregnancies.

It is time for the law to take a reality check. The world we live in is far from ideal, and parental notification laws often make the lives of minors with unwanted pregnancies that much more difficult. It is a parent’s responsibility to create a relationship where a daughter would know that through thick and thin she can turn to her mother and/or father, if that be the case. Law cannot create a happy family, nor can it mandate relationships. When it tries to dictate just that, it is a dangerous infringement on a minor’s privacy rights and puts lives on the line.

While every mother and father would undoubtedly want to know if their daughter is pregnant, it is reasonable to assume that they would moreover prefer that their child is safe. Parental notification laws have brought an onslaught of illegal abortions in the United States, leading to unnecessary and untimely deaths. For example, at the NARAL Pro-Choice Wisconsin 2003 30th anniversary celebration of Roe v. Wade, a story was told that to this day twists my stomach into knots. A 16-year-old girl who had gotten pregnant was too afraid to tell her parents that she needed an abortion. Instead of following the parental notification laws, she sought an illegal abortion. She suffered from a gruesome infection that led to her death. She is not a unique case.

It is disgusting and an outrage that in the 21st century women – the youngest women – in the United States continue to die in order to control their bodies. Is it an immature decision for a minor to seek an illegal abortion instead of signatures from her parents? Of course it is, as well as incredibly stupid. But there it is: reality! Any scientific study shows that teenagers are much more emotion-driven than logic-driven. To a 16-year-old, it may seem like the end of the world to tell her parents about an unwanted pregnancy, whereas an illegal abortion may look like a viable option.

Beyond that, the parental notification laws put an undue burden on minors. Although the law does allow for a minor to seek a judicial bypass, the expectation that a minor would have the education and means of transportation to present her case in front of a judge is unreasonable. Additionally, assuming a minor does seek a judicial bypass, it may take two weeks for a judge to reach a conclusion. In doing so, the law can, as NARAL Pro-Choice Minnesota states, “deter adolescents from seeking timely and necessary care.” If a judge decides not to grant a minor the right to abortion, then what? A young woman must carry an unwanted pregnancy to term, and that is a truly bone-shivering, teeth-grindin prospect. When the government uses young women as human incubators and limits their reproductive freedom, women may as well have a ball and chain strapped to their ankles branded, “PROPERTY OF THE U.S. GOVERNMENT.”

If governments are serious about preventing unwanted pregnancies, there should be more money put into sex education, family planning and organizations such as Planned Parenthood that respect an individual woman’s situation regardless of age or income.

This November, the Supreme Court, whose new term opens today, will hear arguments in a New Hampshire case (Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England) regarding parental notification laws. It is imperative to get parental notification laws off the books so young women stop dying and regain control of their health and their futures.

Abby Bar-Lev welcomes comments at [email protected]