Kids having kids: whose decision is it?

A recent court ruling in California reignies the debate over whether prgnant minors are capable of making a decision about abortion.

By Dawn MacKeen

Published August 12, 1997 7:46PM (EDT)

The teenager didn't want to disappoint her parents. She didn't want to tell them that she was pregnant. And since the state of Indiana required girls like her to notify both parents before having an abortion, the teenager felt like she had no choice. She had an illegal abortion and, as a result, lost her life.

While supporters of abortion rights agree that a case like this is more the anomaly than the norm, they say it still exemplifies the drastic measures some girls will go through to hide a pregnancy from their parents.

"For some teens, it's either perceived that they can't go to their parents or, if it's a really dysfunctional family, they really can't," says Therese Wilson, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood. "Sometimes parents haven't even dealt with the fact that their kids are sexually active -- and then they come home pregnant? That's a big jump." One out of 10 women who come into Planned Parenthood is under 18.

Wilson says a decision last week by the California Supreme Court will help make it easier for teens to get an abortion. The court's 4-3 ruling makes it the minor's decision -- and the minor's decision alone -- to end a pregnancy. It overturns an earlier ruling requiring the prior consent of one parent or the approval of a judge.

"No one would doubt the value to a pregnant minor of wise and caring parental guidance and support as she confronts a decision that will affect the rest of her life," Chief Justice Ronald George wrote in his opinion, "assuming such support is available and the minor is willing to seek it."

But some don't feel that a woman or girl -- or whatever you want to call her -- is mature enough to make a decision like that without the advice of an adult. They believe that the state court's decision will have heavy ramifications for the family.

"Isn't it [the decision] like sneaking around the parents' back?" asks Helen Austin, director of California ProLife. "What concerns us most is that it alienates the parent from the child. It's like the state taking over parental rights. They are making the decision for the parent and the parent should be in on this extremely important decision. It's going to be a life-changing decision for her."

Minors have to have parental consent to obtain a tattoo or have their ears pierced, Austin says, so why is it that they can bypass their parents on something serious like abortion?

In most states -- 30 to be exact -- there is some type of consent or notification required before any minor is allowed to get an abortion. And while opponents of abortion rights point to states like Mississippi -- where the number of abortions performed on minors actually went down by 13 percent since a 1993 parental consent law went into effect -- as their success story, supporters of abortion rights counter by saying teens simply left the state and had their abortions performed elsewhere.

Dawn MacKeen

Dawn MacKeen is a former senior writer for Salon, and author of a forthcoming book about her grandfather’s survival of the Armenian Genocide, "The Hundred-Year Walk: An Armenian Odyssey" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2016).

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Abortion Children Family Motherhood Teenagers