`IF she's old enough to have a baby, she's old enough to abort one.'' That's one popular objection to the parental-notification laws for minors seeking abortions, which the Supreme Court will consider this term. The objection's force fades if we recall that, more often than not, it is because she thinks she's not old enough to have a baby that a minor wants an abortion. Indeed, the poor judgment demonstrated by a teenage pregnancy justifies parental-consent laws: If you're foolish enough to become pregnant at 15, you're not ready to make this life-or-death decision.
Many adults are unsure about abortion; teenagers' confusion can only be worse. Most feel forced toward abortion by apparently overwhelming circumstances. One teenager, pregnant twice in a year, told New York Newsday, ``I was always totally against abortion, until the day I finally decided to do it, and even then I was saying maybe this isn't right.'' Often, out of fear, girls underestimate the possibility of help and sympathy from their parents.
In a sense, the argument for parental-consent laws has little to do with the abortion controversy; it's common sense, which is why most Americans (81 percent according to a Los Angeles Times poll), on both sides of the abortion issue, favor such laws: They protect children from the consequences of ignorance and immaturity.
Because parents are responsible for minors' welfare, they must be responsible for serious decisions - especially those involving money, education, and medical care - that affect minors' lives. Parents have important knowledge about a child's personal and medical history and are able to find competent doctors.
If a teenage girl must get her parents' permission to have her ears pierced, shouldn't her parents have a say in a serious, occasionally life-threatening operation like abortion?
And then there's the money question: If teenagers' parents aren't paying for clandestine abortions, who is? The taxpayer. And these teenagers are not necessarily indigent. In most cases, their only claim on public funds is sexual irresponsibility and embarrassment.
What's more, by creating a cash incentive for clever parents either to maintain or to feign ignorance about their daughters' pregnancies, abortion without parental consent could mean free abortions for any girl under 18. After all, how does a clinic know that a minor's parents have not consented? A note from Mom?
Finally, parental consent and public funding raise questions about abortion's strange and ultimately unworkable ``privacy.''
It's said the decision belongs to the woman and her doctor, even though abortion is rarely performed for medical reasons, and the ``doctor'' is just an abortionist who does what he is paid to do (it's not as though he prescribes abortions). We tend to romanticize this deal in which one party stands to pocket a lot of cash. Recently, an abortion clinic in Brookline, Mass., offered to hire an abortionist to work one afternoon a week for $50,000 a year. Should abortionists have more say in the decision than parents?
How can we argue that abortion is a social blessing worthy of public funds when it was legalized precisely because its morality was supposed to be a personal matter? Abortion was to be a private affair; people would follow their own consciences. But anti-abortionists have consciences too, and, in the face of what you think is murder, to follow your conscience does not mean to refrain from committing the murder yourself; it means saving the victim, which, in this case, will land you in jail.
In some states (e.g., California and New York), anti-abortionists are not only prevented from doing what conscience commands but also compelled to do what conscience forbids: They cannot save fetal lives and must facilitate abortion with their taxes. They're told both to step aside and to lend a hand.
If a state were to outlaw abortion, it would surely prevent some women from doing what they think right, but it would not force anyone to commit a crime (unless having children is criminal). So what is being violated - the consciences of women prevented from doing what's best, or the consciences of people forced to finance a homicide?
How can it be that, when abortion's morality and parental-consent laws are concerned, abortion is nobody's business, yet when public-funding is concerned, abortion is everybody's business?