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Forcing Parental Involvement in Reproductive Health Decisions May Put Teens in Danger
Guttmacher Review of Research and Policies Underscores the Need to Protect Teens’ Access to Confidential Services
With Californians preparing to vote next month on whether parents must be notified before a minor teen can obtain an abortion and the U.S. Supreme Court scheduled to consider a major parental notification case in its current term, the Guttmacher Institute today publishes a review of research, public policy, and public and professional opinion on mandated parental involvement in minors’ sexual and reproductive health care. The evidence shows that policies forcing parental involvement in either abortion or contraceptive services can pose a significant threat to teenagers’ health and well-being—yet such policies, particularly in relation to abortion, continue to be promoted at the state and federal levels.
"Of course, all parents hope that their teenage daughters would consult with them about making the decision to have an abortion," says Cynthia Dailard, Guttmacher senior public policy associate. "And, in fact, most teens do. But you can’t legislate good family relationships. If we want to protect young women’s health and safety, enabling them to access confidential reproductive health services when necessary—including both birth control and abortion—is critically important."
Nearly three decades of research reviewed in the article shows the following:
- Most teens say their parents already know they are seeking prescription contraceptives or having an abortion.
- Faced with a requirement that their parents be notified before they get contraceptives, teens say they would be more likely to have unsafe sex than to forgo sex.
- Mandatory parental involvement may lead to teens having abortions later in pregnancy, when abortion is more risky.
- Forcing teens to inform their parents that they are pregnant or seeking an abortion may place some at risk of physical violence or abuse.
The review finds no persuasive evidence that laws mandating parental involvement improve family communication or relationships, discourage teens from having sex or lead pregnant teens to choose childbirth over abortion.
Leading medical, public health and youth-serving organizations have consistently supported minors’ right to confidential care, even as they urge health care providers to help adolescents talk with their parents about sex and reproductive health. While public policy has long protected the right of minors to receive birth control confidentially, 34 states currently require that a minor involve her parents before obtaining an abortion, and the U.S. House of Representatives has passed legislation (now pending before the Senate) that would impose a strict parental notification requirement for minors’ abortions even in states that have rejected such a policy.
This November, confidentiality for minors is at stake in two key arenas. In California, the November ballot includes an initiative that would amend the state constitution to require that parents be notified 48 hours before a minor can have an abortion. Also, the U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case of Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, which concerns a similar law in New Hampshire that lower federal courts have ruled unconstitutional because it does not contain an exception for cases in which the abortion is necessary to protect a young woman’s health.
"Policymakers and the public should think carefully about these issues," says Dailard. "Our review of the field clearly shows that placing 'parental rights' above young people’s health needs can have disastrous consequences—without doing a thing to help young people talk with their parents or discourage them from having sex."
"Teenagers' Access to Confidential Reproductive Health Services," by Cynthia Dailard and Chinué Turner Richardson, will appear in the November issue of The Guttmacher Report on Public Policy and is available online now. The article is funded by a grant from The California Wellness Foundation (TCWF). Created in 1992 as an independent, private foundation, TCWF’s mission is to improve the health of the people of California by making grants for health promotion, wellness education and disease prevention programs.