The U.S. Supreme Court today hears the first abortion case since the confirmation of Chief Justice John Roberts in September. But much of the battle surrounding the controversial case is taking place outside the court.
The case, Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, challenges New Hampshire’s Parental Notification Prior to Abortion Act, an act that says a minor cannot receive an abortion without giving at least one parent or guardian written notice 48 hours prior to the procedure.
As the first abortion case to be taken up by the court in five years, some experts say Ayotte isn’t about abortion at all.
“This case is not about the right to abortion,” said Bill Saunders, senior fellow at the Family Research Council. “It is about whether an unemancipated minor girl made pregnant by some, usually older, man—which is statutory rape—whether that girl is going to have the input of her parents, or parent, into the decision that can be one of the most important of her life.”
Saunders, who spoke at a discussion Tuesday sponsored by the Pew Research Center, said the law treats minors differently for a reason. Minors don’t have the same decision-making skills as adults. Oftentimes they don’t understand the ramifications of their decisions.
“It’s really a question of what is the appropriate way to treat different kinds of people,” he said.
Minors are required to get parental consent to obtain such things as body piercings or tattoos, to go tanning or have surgery, to marry or put a child up to an adoption—and yet, to have an abortion, they only need to alert a parent or guardian beforehand, Saunders said.
He said an abortion should be treated as any other medical procedure an underaged teenager might need, meaning a parent should be involved.
Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, also participated in Tuesday’s discussion and shared a different point of view, arguing that Planned Parenthood is concerned about a woman’s health in seeking an abortion, not her age.
The New Hampshire statute, as it currently stands, allows a judge to waive the notification requirement if the minor requesting an abortion can prove to the court that she is mature enough to make the decision by herself or that it’s in her best interest. Under the “death exception,” no parental notification is necessary if the abortion provider attests that unless immediately terminated, the pregnancy could cause death to the minor involved to die. In cases such as this, the 48-hour waiting period would be dismissed.
But Northup said these exceptions are not enough.
She said Planned Parenthood insists a “health exception” be added to the statute to ensure the “core commitment to women’s health that’s in the Constitution.”
“All that the plaintiffs are asking here is that New Hampshire put into this law and exception to this waiting time and this requirement to go to court, if a minor is in a situation of a medical emergency,” Northup said. “Just do it. Put in a medical emergency exception. What is the harm of doing that? And it’s going to prevent harm to teenagers.”
Again, Saunders said the question comes down to whether or not a parent should be involved in such a serious health risk—one that has not only physical but also psychological ramifications. If parents are responsible by law to pay for such treatments, they need to be made aware of them.
“If a girl’s health is at risk, an underage girl, isn’t that the most important point to have parental input?” Saunders asked. “And remember, the statute provides that she can get a judicial bypass if she’s mature enough to make her own decision or if the judge determines it’s in her best interest.”