State laws that require an adolescent girl to either notify her parents or to receive their consent before she can obtain an abortion are inconsistent with many state laws about medical matters, a new report concludes.
The report--written by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a group that studies teenage sexual issues and supports abortion rights--found that, in most states, teenagers have access to a wide variety of medical procedures and can make life-altering decisions in most locales without their parents’ knowledge or consent.
“State laws that make a minor’s access to abortion services dependent upon the involvement of her parents are quite out of step with the common practices regarding other important areas of a teenager’s life,” the report concludes.
The report found that “state laws Frequently authorize a minor to consent to surgery, drug therapies, and hospitalization for physical and emotional problems--all of which may entail greater health risks than abortion.”
Yet, the report notes, “most states guarantee a teenager no such confidentiality when she is seeking an abortion.”
The clash over abortion rights over the past several years has often been focused on whether a girl should be allowed to get an abortion without her parents’ knowledge or consent. Those who support a parent’s right to know about or consent to an adolescent’s abortion argue that state laws on abortion are often more lenient than other state mandates that govern an adolescent’s life.
According to the institute, 18 states mandate parental consent or notification, and 9 additional states have similar laws whose enforcement is currently enjoined.
In virtually all of these states, the laws allow the minor to convince a judge that she is sufficiently mature to make up her own mind about whether to have an abortion.
Three states and the District of Columbia explicitly give adolescents the right to bypass their parents altogether.
About 180,000 teenagers annually have abortions, the report states.
Since the late 1960’s, several U.S. Supreme Court rulings have prompted states to pass laws that grant teenagers more rights and the ability to make important decisions for themselves, the report says.
It notes that 24 states and the District of Columbia allow adolescents to get contraceptive services on their own and that none has a law requiring parental consent.
No states require parental consent for prenatal care, delivery services, or treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, the report states.
Laws in 21 states require a minor to consent to routine medical services, and states commonly permit doctors to treat a minor for a medical emergency without parental consent, the report says.
Further, the report says, most states allow a teenager to drop out of school or to put a child up for adoption without parental input.
Wanda Franz, the president of the National Right to Life Committee, disputed the institute’s conclusion that teenagers do not receive their parents’ consent for many life decisions.
According to her organization, minors in all states must get their parents’ consent before enlisting in the armed services, participating in most forms of medical research, or getting married.
According to the Guttmacher report, in contrast, 10 states allow minors to marry without parental consent in certain circumstances, such as when the bride is pregnant.
Ms. Franz also disputed the conclusion that teenagers do not need their parents’ consent for an abortion.
“There is no debate over whether teens should receive prompt treatment for medical problems, but abortion is not treatment for a disease-abortion stops a beating heart,” she said.
Copies of the report, “Our Daughters’ Decisions: The Conflict in State Law on Abortion and Other Issues,” is available for $11 each from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 111 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10003.
A version of this article appeared in the January 22, 1992 edition of Education Week as Abortion-Notification Laws Inconsistent With Other Statutes, Guttmacher Says