Parental Notification Attacked as Harmful to Teen Health

In its latest newsletter, the Guttmacher Report links to a research paper that asserts definitively that parental involvement in decision-making regarding sexual and reproductive health care neither improves parent-child relationships nor encourages conversations about sexual matters. Further, the Report declares, policies that mandate parental involvement or notification are detrimental to teenagers’ health and well-being.

Interestingly, Guttmacher also reports that in the first nine months of 2005, states adopted 80 laws related to sexual and reproductive health care –– up from only 28 laws passed during 2004. By their account, 43 of the laws restrict and 20 increase access to care.

The meaning is between the lines, however. For instance, the report begins by citing the fact that teen pregnancies have not increased since the 1970s. What have increased, however, are unwed teen pregnancies. Teens are not marrying until later and pregnancy does not as often lead to marriage; instead, more teens opt for out-of-wedlock births or abortions.

Liberals, in general, view a teen marriage as more harmful to a girl than an out-of-wedlock birth or an abortion; this is true especially if a pregnancy is “forcing” the marriage.

Another instance of hidden meaning is in a review of literature published in Current Opinions in Obstetrics and Gynecology. This publication found that the parents of about half of adolescents who go to family planning clinics know that they are there. Also, a quarter of the adolescents who seek services at a family planning clinic, according to the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), are there because their parents urged them to go. Logically, then, parental notification laws would apply to half or less of adolescents who are likely to seek services from the clinics. Those parents who are unaware that their adolescents are seeking clinical services, presumably, would be more likely to oppose clinical solutions to their child’s “problem.”

Likewise, more than six in 10 teenage abortions were done with parental knowledge (according to a 1992 study in Family Planning Perspectives); so, parental notification laws would apply to only about 40 percent of those adolescents likely to seek abortions. Again, presumably, these parents would be more likely to oppose abortion as a solution to their teen’s “problem.”

In other words, those who need parental involvement are the ones who would be most affected by the parental notification policies. Ironically, The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy argues that teenagers want to hear from their parents about sex, love and relationships. Further, the National Campaign says that parents have far greater influence on their children’s sexual decision-making than they might think.

Any studies that indicate positive results from parental notification are dismissed by the Guttmacher researchers as having flawed and inadequate methodology –– a notable case of the “pot calling the kettle black” because just last week a report came out finding that numerous medical studies –– including peer-reviewed articles published in prestigious medical journals –– have been eventually proved false or misleading. Dr. Drummond Rennie, a deputy editor of JAMA, noted nearly two years ago that almost one-third of the top papers that appeared in top journals over a 13-year period from 1990 to 2003 were either contradicted or found to have potentially exaggerated results. All the articles had undergone vigorous peer review, leading to questions about the validity of medical studies that shape public opinion as well as medical policies.

Public opinion remains steadfast: By a margin of three to one, the public favors mandated parental involvement in the sexual and reproductive health decisions of adolescents. Put another way, all but six states have laws requiring that at least one parent or guardian be involved in a decision for a girl under 18 to terminate a pregnancy. A law passed in 1990 allows a “judicial bypass” that enables a girl to convince a judge that she would face abuse if her parents were notified or that she is mature enough to make the decision on her own.

Ironically, the Supreme Court will be arguing a case this week –– Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood –– which will test the limits of parental notification. Some experts claim that, however the case turns out, the outcome could revolutionize abortion law. Basically, the case hinges on whether a law without a “health exception” puts a hypothetical “undue burden” on the right to abortion. Never mind that the Washington Post reported on a brief prepared by legislators in New Hampshire: Over the past decade a survey of tens of thousands of teen abortions in seven states found that under a dozen abortions were performed for health emergencies.

The key word in the upcoming Supreme Court case is “hypothetical.” If the court rules in Ayotte that hypothetical exceptions are irrelevant, abortion legalities will be measured against the Constitution –– just like other legal decisions –– and sanity will have returned to judicial decision-making.