Laws and policies on abortion have been changing rapidly across the United States since the US Supreme Court overturned the federal constitutional right to abortion in late June in Dobbs v. Jackson. As a result, some information here may be out of date. Our team is working diligently to update this resource. Thank you for your patience.
The ability of people younger than 18 (generally, the legal definition of a minor) to consent to a range of sensitive health care services—including sexual and reproductive health care, mental health services, and alcohol and drug abuse treatment—has expanded dramatically over the past several decades. This trend reflects the recognition that, while involving parents or guardians in young people’s health care decisions is desirable, many young people will not avail themselves of important services if they are forced to involve their parents. With regard to sexual and reproductive health care, many states explicitly permit all or some people younger than 18 to obtain contraceptive, prenatal and STI services without parental involvement. Moreover, nearly every state permits parents younger than 18 to make important decisions regarding their children. In sharp contrast, a majority of states require parental involvement before a legal minor can obtain an abortion.
Notably for access to contraceptives for those younger than 18, the U.S. Supreme Court specifically affirmed their right to access contraceptives in the 1977 decision Carey v. Population Services International. No state has enacted a blanket requirement that individuals must obtain parental consent for contraceptive services. For laws related to HIV and other STI services, pregnancy care, adoption or medical care for a child, state consent laws apply to all individuals aged 12 through 17. In some cases, however, states allow only certain groups of young people—such as those who are married, pregnant or already parents—to consent. Several states have no relevant policy or case law; in these states, physicians commonly provide medical care without parental consent to individuals younger than 18 they deem mature, particularly if the state allows minors to consent to related services. The following chart tracks seven areas in which state laws can affect a young person’s right to consent. For further information on each issue, click on the column heading.