Cover Story

The parent gap

The number of abortions among teenagers is dropping much faster in states with strong parental consent laws

Issue: "30 years of destruction," Jan. 18, 2003

ENJOINED. THE WORD APPEARS often on Americans United for Life's list of abortion-related parental involvement laws in the states. Twenty-five parental notice and consent laws are currently in effect in the United States. Only four states-Hawaii, New Hampshire, New York, and Oregon-plus the District of Columbia have no laws requiring parental consent, or even notification, for a minor to obtain an abortion.

Meanwhile, parental involvement laws in at least 14 states are under permanent injunction, hog-tied in court, or exist in a limbo called "constitutionally problematic." That's because private abortion clinics and the Usual Plaintiff (Planned Parenthood) wage a perpetual legal war against laws designed to involve parents in a major moral and medical decision faced by teen girls every day-the decision to take the life of an unborn child.

Such legal challenges are an important strategy for abortion advocates. About one in five people who walks into an abortion clinic is a teenager. And during the 1990s, pro-aborts watched the number of abortions among all age groups in the United States drop by 20 percent. In anticipation of the 30th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, WORLD examined how parental involvement laws affected abortion declines in the states between 1990 and 1999.

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The Centers for Disease Control each year issues its "Abortion Surveillance Report." That document lists abortion statistics for most of the United States, separating the numbers into various categories, such as the age and race of people obtaining abortions; the gestational age of babies at termination; and the number of previous abortions females had when they opted for their most recent one. But the surveillance report does not break out totals for teen girls affected by parental consent laws (usually 17 and under), and those not affected. So WORLD did.

We totaled, then crunched, the number of girls in that age group who obtained abortions in states where parental notice and consent laws took effect between 1990 and 1999, the most recent year for which the CDC tallied abortion numbers. Here were our questions: How much did abortion among teens 17 and under decline in states with consent and notice laws, versus states with no laws? How did declines compare between states with consent laws and states with notice laws? And how did declines in consent-, notice-, and no-law states compare with the 20 percent decline in abortion overall?

A consent law requires that at least one parent give permission when a minor female wants to abort her baby. Here are the states where consent laws took effect during the 1990s, according to Americans United for Life:

Maine (one-parent or adult family member consent)

Michigan (one-parent consent)

Mississippi (two-parent consent)

North Carolina (one-parent consent)

Pennsylvania (one-parent consent)

A notice law requires that at least one parent be notified of a minor girl's intent to obtain an abortion. Here are the other states where notice laws took effect during the 1990s:

Georgia (one-parent notice)

Kansas (one-parent notice)

Montana (took effect in 1995, permanently enjoined in 1999)

Nebraska (one-parent notice)

Connecticut also has a parental notice law, but it gives abortionists discretion to ask minors whether involving their parents would be a good idea. The state did not report the number of teen abortions to the CDC between 1988 and 1993. Texas enacted a parental notice law in 1999, but its impact would have occurred too late in the decade for WORLD to include it in this analysis.

In states where at least one parent (or in Maine, one adult family member) must agree to allow a young teenager to abort her baby, the number of abortions obtained by girls 17 and under fell by an average of 55 percent during the 1990s. That's 35 percent more than the decline in abortions overall during the decade. Abortions in the 17-and-under group fell the most in Mississippi, plummeting 69 percent from 921 in 1990 to 289 in 1999. In that state, both of a girl's parents must give written permission for her to obtain an abortion.

Though abortions among young teens in North Carolina fell the least among the consent states WORLD examined, the drop there was still 48 percent. That's more than 25 times the average decline of 18 percent among states WORLD analyzed where no parental involvement is required when a young teen considers abortion.

WORLD looked at three of the five jurisdictions where no parental involvement is required. (The CDC did not publish data for New Hampshire, and data for the District of Columbia was too limited for a thorough analysis.) In Hawaii, where a famously liberal legislature has refused to involve parents in the abortion-related medical and ethical decisions of their teen daughters, the number of abortions among girls 17 and under fell by only 8 percent. In Oregon, abortions fell by only 12 percent, and in New York, the decline was 36 percent.


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