The Debate between a Minor’s Right

In discussing the issue of parental consent for a minor to obtain an abortion, one must look at a host of underlying and fundamental human rights: namely a minor's right to privacy vs. a parent's minimal right of notification. In essence, the controversy appears to be one not only one of a right to privacy, but also one of discrimination, and emancipation of young women en masse. Each side of the debate provides compelling and legitimate arguments, yet much of our current social commentary on these and related issues (such as Statutory Rape, which will be discussed) border on inconsistency and incredulity.

To wit, in California, a young woman attending Junior High may not take an over-the-counter medication such as Tylenol(r) without the written consent of a parent. She must be in the nurse's office in order to take the medication; not on her own accord, between classes, pulling the pills from her purse. Should she become pregnant, that very same day, she would find herself immediately emancipated in the eyes of California State Law: an instant adult with sovereign rights over her own body and subsequent future.

This dichotomy and virtual flip-flopping of core values is only one source of frustration for the many lawmakers, parents and teens who have wrestled with the issue of parental rights when it comes to the tragedy of teenage pregnancy. In ancient Greece, a tragedy might be told with a tumultuous ending that would not only provide moral grounding, but also would incite pity toward our hero. It is this concept of lost potential that motivates me to use a word like "tragedy" to describe our national dilemma of predominantly unplanned teenage pregnancies.

To look at collected data and figures from the fallout of teens impregnated by men 5-7 years their senior; the subsequent lack of responsible parenting and absence of those men in their children's lives, with the resultant welfare dependency is to sigh collectively in the face of lost innocence and found (albeit obligatory) accountability. The seeming liberty of adulthood never came with a heavier price than for a woman to raise a child alone. With the odds against her, many young women will opt for an abortion, even crossing state lines in defiance of local and state laws which prohibit such conduct.

This is the crutch of the Child Custody Protection Act (CCPA), a piece of legislation that has gone through numerous revisions and incarnations over the past few years. In essence, it seeks to penalize any person/s who transports a minor across state lines if doing so is in violation of her home state's parental involvement laws and/or requirements. As a result, with the passage of this bill, a conviction could not only result in fines and civil suits, but also, possible imprisonment (H. R. 1218, 1999; S. 661, 1999). As with all abortion related rhetoric, discussions on both sides are rife with volatility. A Synopsis of Conflicting Opinions

Understandably, both sides of the initial argument of parental notification (or consent) are hotly debated in the halls of Congress, as well as those of our local high schools. The topic of abortion is often fodder for debate and conjecture when it comes to topics worthy of dialogue between adolescents. Planned Parenthood argues that parental notification and consent laws "puts many girls at risk for severe punishment, expulsion from the home or even physical violence. " They also contend that, as minors can give their consent for other surgical procedures, they should also be able to give their own consent to terminate a pregnancy.

Supporting the aforementioned "Child Custody Protection Act", advocates of parental rights rally for legislation that favors a more conservative and traditional position of a parent's preeminent rights with regards to their children. Such is the case with Teresa Stanton Collett, Professor at South Texas College of Law, who has repeatedly testified in front the Subcommittee on the Constitution, Committee on the Judiciary, U. S. House of Representatives 2,3. In her dissenting position, she argues a few key points that favor parental involvement.

First and foremost, is the belief that the medical care of minors who seek abortions is actually improved by parental involvement in three (3) ways. First, parents are better equipped to assist in the selection of a competent healthcare provider. In the case Bellotti vs. Baird 4, the U. S. Supreme Court acknowledged the superior ability of parents to evaluate and select appropriate abortion providers. Secondly, parents have been shown to be better equipped at providing important medical history information. And thirdly, parents who are involved can more accurately recognize and respond to any post-operative complications.

Some of the risks include post-abortion nausea, tenderness, swelling, bleeding and prolonged cramping. As she points out, more serious and life-threatening complications can and do arise. These may include a perforated uterus, which may lead to infection; Endometriosis; Post-abortion sepsis, which if left untreated, can be fatal (due to fetal remains that were not correctly and completely removed from the uterus. ) In addition, a delay in treatment, may lead to further infections, pelvic abscess, septic pelvic thrombophlebitis, disseminated intravascular coagulophy, septic shock, renal (kidney) failure and infertility.

Ms. Stanton also addresses the benefit of increased protection from sexual assault when parents are involved. She points out the overwhelmingly large numbers of adolescent mothers who have been impregnated by men over the age of 20. Many of whom, once the pregnancy is terminated, may return to a dysfunctional and/or abusive relationship. She cites: In a study of over 46,000 pregnancies, by school-age girls in California, researchers found that 71% (or over 33,000) were fathered by adult, post-high-school men whose mean age was 22. 6 years… an average of 5 years older than the mothers.

Even among Jr. High school mothers aged 15 or younger, most births are fathered by adult men 6-7 years their senior. Men aged 25 or older father more births among California school-age girls than do boys under 18. She stresses in her argument that "secret abortions do not advance the best interests of most minor girls. Parental involvement laws insure that parents have the opportunity to protect their daughters from those who would victimize them repeatedly. "

One of the most disturbing things about [the] exploding [rate of] teen pregnancy is that so many of the fathers are…men, 26 and 28 years old, having sex with 14-year-old girls," In opposition of the CCPA, pro-choice groups such as Planned Parenthood, NARAL and others provide equally convincing arguments. Foremost, they argue that requiring parental consent is not consistent with state laws regulating other medical services for minors. They defer to the fact that states have "long recognized many minors have the capacity to consent to their own medical care", noting that "the informed consent of a patient, if competent, has always been a prerequisite to medical treatment. "