“Parental Involvement” Mandates for Abortion Harm Young People, But Policymakers Can Fight Back
Young people deserve access to the full spectrum of sexual and reproductive health care, including abortion care. Yet, states have long imposed special barriers by forcing minors to involve their parents in their decision to have an abortion. These parental involvement mandates are unnecessary, deny young people’s bodily autonomy, and can add logistical and financial burdens to abortion care.
States are increasingly looking to young people’s access as they move in diverging directions on abortion rights. In 2020 so far, new parental involvement mandates have been introduced in three states, while bills to repeal existing requirements have been introduced in four states. States should repeal these requirements as one step toward a commitment to reproductive rights that centers the needs of marginalized groups.
The Current Landscape
As of February 2020, 37 states require young people seeking abortion care to notify or obtain the consent of a parent or guardian. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the constitutional right to abortion applies to minors, but that states may pass parental involvement laws if they include a judicial bypass, a process that allows young people to seek a waiver from a court.
Some states have amplified the burden of these laws in the decades since the Supreme Court’s ruling by requiring involvement of both parents or requiring parents to show identification, proof of parenthood or a notarized statement. These requirements create additional hoops that even supportive parents may struggle to jump through, such as if they do not hold government-issued identification.
Parental involvement mandates are a dangerous erosion of reproductive rights and purposefully target populations who may be least equipped to fight back. Mandates deny young people’s right to bodily autonomy, may force a young person to face an abusive parent, and ignore relationships with trusted adults other than parents or legal guardians. These laws disproportionately impact young people of color, who are more likely to experience unintended pregnancy, as well as immigrants, who may lack government-issued identification or fear immigration enforcement against themselves or their family.
Recent State Actions
States are notably moving in both restrictive and protective directions on parental involvement mandates, which shows that young people’s access is on state legislators’ minds. In the 2020 legislative session, repeals have been introduced in Arizona, Illinois, Massachusetts and Michigan, while restrictive bills have been introduced in Florida, New Hampshire and New Mexico.
The repeal bills would strike requirements of parental notice in Illinois and parental consent in Michigan. In Arizona, two bills have been introduced that would allow the provider to waive the notarized parental consent requirement. The provision in Massachusetts would repeal a requirement of consent by both parents, and is an essential pillar of its comprehensive abortion rights bill.
The Florida bill would require notarized consent from one parent, on top of an existing notification requirement, and the New Mexico bill would require notification of one parent or guardian. The New Hampshire bill would strike a judicial bypass process that enables young people to request an exemption from the state’s parental notification requirement—a change that would likely be unconstitutional.
Evidence Undermines Mandates
Research indicates that forced parental involvement laws are linked to an increase in the number of young people who travel out of state to seek abortion care in states with less restrictive requirements. The average distance that a young person must travel for a confidential abortion increased from 55 miles in 1992 to 454 miles in 2015, which can leave abortion out of reach. Research also shows that most young people voluntarily involve a parent in their decision to have an abortion, and those who choose not to do so commonly fear coercion or conflict. For reasons like this, parental involvement mandates may risk harm to young people by delaying medical care.
Even when a judicial bypass is available, research indicates that it can harm young people through logistical burdens and emotional stress. Judicial bypass can also delay a young person’s care, compromise their confidentiality, and force them to arrange transportation and time off from school in order to go to court.
Courts have struck down parental involvement mandates in Alaska and Montana, finding that such laws violate equal protection and privacy rights by treating young people seeking abortion differently from those making other reproductive health decisions. Professional organizations including the American Public Health Association, the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics oppose requiring parental involvement in abortion. Rather, these organizations affirm the importance of confidentiality and underscore the risks of delaying abortion care.
Dangerous Erosion of Rights
States largely affirm young people’s ability to consent to other reproductive health services, such as contraceptive services, prenatal care, and testing and treatment for STIs. The notable exception is abortion care, a fact that undermines arguments for the necessity of forced parental involvement.
Repealing parental involvement mandates is a long-overdue priority that would center the needs of young people and make it clear that reproductive rights are universal. Young people are the experts on their own lives. They are capable of safe and healthy decision-making, and of seeking support when they need it from trusted adults, without mandates infringing on their rights.