Making teens tell just makes things worse

Guttmacher says parental involvement laws don’t reduce abortion, they increase risks.

Published March 11, 2009 7:30PM (EDT)

I hate to say "I told you so" -- oh no wait, I love to say "I told you so," at least when it comes to the truth about parental involvement laws and minors' access to abortion care. Because here (PDF) is what the Guttmacher Institute has to tell us today, based on a new comprehensive review of published research: "Laws requiring parental involvement in minors' abortions -- promoted by their proponents as a way of encouraging parent-child communication and lowering the teen abortion rate -- appear to do little to reduce teen abortion or pregnancy rates....Moreover, there is no evidence that shows whether these laws affect parent-child communication, but there is some evidence that they may cause real harm to teens."

Harm, as in: Teens who do not involve their parents in such decisions (and P.S., most do) largely have good reason, fearing that they'll get kicked out at best, beaten up at worst. Judicial bypass provisions? Whatevs. They remedy little; if anything, they delay abortion, making it less safe and harder to get.

Currently, 34 states -- and counting (Hi, Governor Palin!) -- have laws in effect that mandate parental involvement (notification or consent) in minors' abortions.

Opponents of abortion, more than willing to use at-risk minors as pawns, like to say these laws road-block abortion by any means necessary "support family communication" (accurate, if by "communication" you mean a police report), and like to cite a 2006 study of Texas' parental notification law as proof of these laws' "success" at reducing abortion. What they don't so much explore is the fact that while that study found an association (keyword) between the law and a decline in abortion rates among 15-17 year olds, it also found increased birth rates and rates of second-trimester (more dangerous) abortions among minors who got pregnant when they were over 17 and a half, and likely watched the clock until they turned 18. Or the fact that the lead researcher on that study has also said that, in general, "There are ongoing trends that are pushing both birth rates and abortion rates down significantly, and those larger trends are more important than the effect of these laws."

The Guttmacher review authors, for their part, conclude that parental involvement laws may in some cases have led to an increase in teen birthrates, where teens were unable to travel the long distances necessary to access abortion services out of state. That, and the flipside: "The clearest documented impact of parental involvement laws is an increase in the number of minors traveling outside their home states to obtain abortion services in states that do not mandate parental involvement or that have less restrictive laws." From a statement: "If more states enact these restrictions, teens [will] either be faced with greater challenges in accessing a provider in a state without parental involvement law or [will] have an unwanted birth, neither of which is a good option." Really, no.

"We know that the significant declines in minors' abortion rates over the past two decades are largely the result of declines in their pregnancy rates," said Amanda Dennis, project manager at Ibis Reproductive Health and lead author of the review. "In turn, the major factor driving down teen pregnancy rates was better use of contraceptives."

By Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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