THE issue of abortion is complex enough even before it is compounded by the problem of children having children. Some believe that the law should place greater restrictions on abortion by minors than on adults. They would involve parents directly in the decision and force physicians and clinics to delay the procedure with a woman under 18 until a responsible adult is consulted. Some state statutes now make this requirement. On the other hand, these teenage abortion laws seldom take into consideration rape or incest. They also don't take into account that the intrusion of the state could tend to alienate a young woman from her family at a time when she most needs parental support.
Decisions of this kind are difficult. Some situations are so personal that only the minor herself can meaningfully weigh the options. The alternatives of keeping the baby or adoption certainly come into play.
Laws or government restrictions on abortion won't keep minors from becoming pregnant. The threat of imprisonment or fine won't deter pregnancy or abortion among teenagers. Girls should be encouraged to confide in caring parents in a difficult situation. It is to be hoped that an acceptable alternative to abortion will be found.
Young women without families or whose families cannot be depended on for support in this kind of situation need to be helped made comfortable in seeking other adult help - perhaps friends, clergy, or a social agency. Love and comfort are needed, not fear and threats.
These are some of the reasons why questions must be raised about parental consent and parental notification statutes in connection with abortion. This type of law is on the books in 31 states - and there are many challenges in the courts.
On November 29, the United States Supreme Court will hear a pair of cases from Minnesota and Ohio on regulating teenage abortions.
The Minnesota statute in question in Hodgson v. Minnesota requires that both the mother and the father of a minor be informed of a proposed abortion at least 48 hours in advance of the procedure. Alternatively, the girl would need to prove to a judge that she is mature enough to make her own decision or that notifying her parents would not be in her best interests.
This law which has been in effect for five years was struck down by a district court which said the statute failed to achieve its purpose of protecting pregnant minors. The lower court added that the law worked against family unity rather than enhancing it.
The issue of children's rights was also raised. A panel of Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed this finding, but that circuit's entire bench reversed it.
The Ohio law is being challenged in Ohio v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health. The notification of only one parent is required under this regulation. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down this statute because it mandates that the physician personally inform the parent, and it imposes an undue burden on the minor to get the court to bypass parental notification.
The focus of this case is on the issue of judicial bypass, which is part of the law in 14 states. This aspect of parental notification laws has not been specifically addressed in the past by the Supreme Court, although notification has previously been reviewed by the high court.
Within the last month, Florida's supreme court struck down that state's parental consent law for underage abortions. And a California appellate court in San Francisco recently prevented the enforcement of a 1987 statute that forbids unmarried minors to get an abortion without the approval of a parent, guardian, or a judge.