Key Points

  • In 2008, 34 states had laws in effect that mandated parental involvement in minors’ abortions.
  • A literature search identified 29 studies of the impact of these laws on a range of outcomes.
  • The clearest documented impact of parental involvement laws is an increase in the number of minors traveling outside their home states to obtain abortion services in states that do not mandate parental involvement or that have less restrictive laws.
  • Many studies reported a decline in minors’ abortion rate associated with parental involvement laws. However, most of these studies did not measure abortions among minors who leave the state, or stop coming into the state, because of the law. Studies in Mississippi and Massachusetts, which incorporated data on minors traveling out of state, found no effect on the abortion rate, while one in Texas suggested that parental involvement laws lower abortion rates and raise birthrates if minors must travel long distances to access providers in states without such laws.
  • Several state studies found no short-term impact on pregnancy rates. n Many studies had serious limitations, including incomplete data, inadequate controls for factors other than the imposition of the law and lack of statistical power because they measured outcomes among all women or teenagers rather than minors. Several reported anomalous findings that indicate confounding by uncontrolled variables.
  • Three studies reported large impacts of parental involvement laws on infant and child health. These findings are implausible, given the small or undocumented increase in unintended childbearing and the limited data on infant and child well-being.
  • Future research should incorporate straightforward designs with minor-specific data. Researchers should document prelaw trends in outcomes among those exposed and unexposed to the laws. They also should clearly discuss expected outcomes, statistical power and the plausibility of their findings.