on parental consent and notification
January 9, 2010 § 2 Comments
harriet jacobs brilliant analysis on the effects of abortion access restriction on minors. go read the whole thing and the comments:
After I ran away, I developed an intense interest in medical rights and access. If I got pregnant, as a teenage runaway not in the system, could I get an abortion? It wasn’t an academi subject, and every time I read a newspaper article about a new restrictive law for minors, I got physically ill. I searched out information on DIY abortions, along with DIY dentistry and medical interventions, all things I wasn’t sure I could get if I needed them. I came to the conclusion that I wouldn’t be able to perform an abortion by myself, much like I couldn’t perform dentistry for myself, but if it came down to it, I was pretty sure I could figure out how to fuck up bad enough to go to the emergency room but not bad enough to kill myself. That would be enough to force the hand of doctors, insurance agents, and the law, and I could get the care I needed with hopefully few remaining injuries. I just want to emphasize: I had nights where I forced myself through methodical daydreams about how I would pull teeth out of my own head with pliers, because I felt I had to be mentally prepared to injure myself enough to acquire medical attention without my father’s permission. I had nights where I reviewed where I could most quickly acquire the tools to create a failed abortion, if I had to get up out of bed and run to do it right that minute; I knew, somewhere in me, that not having sex with Flint wasn’t an option if I also wanted food and a bed to sleep in once I turned 18, so I had to be prepared for the consequences of that. So I hope you can understand why I am 100% against restrictions on minors acquiring medical care without parental notification or consent; this is not an academic or moral or legal or ethical issue for me. This is a body memory of where the closest places to buy knitting needles are, and how late those places are open, and who I could potentially con five dollars out of, and what excuse I could give them…
So, welcome to the reality of legal restrictions on medical services to teenagers! This is a thing to keep in mind whenever you read about a new law taking shape or being passed. If the new law does not explicitly identify standards and procedures, and if it does not explicitly identify service providers, and if those service providers do not actually exist in your community, you now have a pretty good idea of the intentions of the lawmakers. Passing a law that is undefined and inaccessible is passing a law you don’t want to see enforced. When lawmakers passed this notification law, they didn’t want girls to actually be able to acquire bypasses. They didn’t even care if girls notified their parents. If they had cared about these things, the law would have actually addressed what “notification” means, what “parents” mean, and who provides bypasses. It did not address these things, because these were not the things lawmakers actually wanted to see happen. The lawmakers purposefully made a law where it is impossible to ensure compliance, but is entirely possible to be punished for non-compliance. They made it this way because they did not want to see compliance. They wanted to see a full stop.
Laws restricting access to medical services are laws restricting access to medical services. They are not laws creating family talks, better worlds, or moral teenagers. They are laws creating restrictions to medical services, which people do not seek unless they need them. Laws creating restrictions to medical services are laws creating restrictions to services people need and need desperately. You can argue that the lawmakers had some kind of noble intentions in mind — I will not buy it, but you can argue that. But you cannot argue that once the law has been in effect and created an inability to comply, and yet remained unchanged. If this was a law about notifying parents, it would have addressed how to notify parents. If this was a law about how to seek a bypass, it would have addressed how to seek a bypass. Since it didn’t address either of those things, this is obviously a law about something else. You only get one guess about what that something else is….
and from the comments stacey’s writes about the logic behind parental notification laws:
Here’s why consent/notification laws aren’t unconstitutional.
The federal court in Roe v. Wade held that the states 1) cannot create an undue burden with regard to women accessing abortion care; and 2) may regulate abortion access in regard to minor females. The federal court, conveniently did not define “undue burden” and that has given the anti choice crowd one of the best tools to chip away access to abortions. It also gave them the tools to force legislation that led to notification/consent laws. Because the federal court did not define “undue burden” AND left this particular regulation to the states, it isn’t a federal violation of the U.S. constitution, therefore it’s not a violation of a woman’s federal right to an abortion nor unconstitutional. That is part of the reason that antichoicers pushed so hard on this sort of legislation in the 1990’s. Legislation like this at the state level would survive federal constitutional challeges.
PN/CLs also got through because it appeals to a core value of the U.S., which is that you literally “own” your children and can pretty much do what you want with them, hence the argument “they can’t get XYZA from the school nurse/doctor/hospital without permission so why should they be permtted to have an abortion without a parent’s knowledge and/or permission?” Whose rights trumps? Parents of a pregnant minor? The pregnant minor? If we let parental rights triumph, how does that work for minors who don’t want to continue a pregnancy, let alone parent? If we let minors (specifically, females) have the ability to override their parents on this issue, where CAN we draw the line? Every decision that parents make with regard to their children could be disputed. So while moderates were suspicious of notification/consent legislation, that core value that parents’ rights trump allowed many states to enact them anyway.
Now, want your head to really hurt? Minors by law, may access confidential medical care regarding: contraceptives (assuming they have some funds independent of their parents insurance); STI treatment; prenatal care; and post-natal care but cannot access abortion in the majority of states. Yet we complain about the teen pregnancy rate and the states with the highest teen pregnancy rates are the very states with the most strict consent or notification laws. Minors may also, independent of their parents, arrange for the adoption of children they birth and, even while minors, may independently make ALL decisions with regard to children they do have. Minors are allowed to do this because the states believe that as a parent, they are the best people, to make these choices, yet many of these same minors cannot access abortion, which of course makes little sense. Parenting and/or adoption are just as profoundly life changing as an abortion and basing access on arbitrary biological age is silly.
In my opinion, any female that can menstruate and become pregnant possesses the sole ability to decide whether to continue that pregnancy and access or rights to abortion cannot and should not be predicated upon biological age.