Point-Counterpoint: Parental Consent for Abortions

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This week's question: Should a minor female be able to get an abortion without her parent's knowledge or consent? Niger Innis, national spokesperson for the Congress of Racial Equality, and Ramona Edelin, a scholar and vice chair of the Black Leadership Forum, debate the issue.

ED GORDON, host:

I'm Ed Gordon. This is NEWS & NOTES.

On our Point-Counterpoint segment today, we ask the question...

Mr. NIGER INNIS (Congress of Racial Equality): Should a girl be able to get an abortion without her parents knowing?

GORDON: That's Niger Innis, national spokesperson for the Congress of Racial Equality.

Mr. INNIS: The answer is no. I had a brief but intense argument about this issue with a girlfriend of mine last weekend. She is pro-choice and a doctor. She gave me all the usual arguments in favor of abortion, but I told her, this was not an argument for or against abortion, not even an argument for having parental consent before a girl is allowed to have an abortion, which is the law in several states. This is about parental notification before a minor has an abortion.

Now people of sound mind and sound morals have and will continue to argue for and against abortion. But for me, this discussion is about the family and the state. There is sound reason and judgment behind those state laws that prevent medical procedures without parental notification. If the procedure doesn't work out properly, then the doctor and/or hospital would be liable for a malpractice suit that would make most trial lawyers salivate. If successful, parents would have to follow up a particular procedure with home care and treatment. Finally and most importantly, parents can give that minor good advice and provide an emotional and psychological reinforcement for the child before, during and after the medical procedure.

Obviously this advice and reinforcement can't take place if they're not even aware a procedure is about to be performed on their child. Even my pro-choice girlfriend acknowledged that most medical procedures can't be performed without parental notification and consent. Most schools won't even give a child a cough drop without notifying her parents. So why does it make sense that my daughter's tonsils can't be removed without my being notified, but the destiny of several people's lives, not to mention an unborn life, can be utterly decided while my wife and I are totally in the dark? Sound medicine? No. Sound law? No. Politics.

The pro-choice lobby and its allies in the media have made parental notification a battle line in the war between pro-lifers and pro-choicers when it really should be seen as a pro-family rights issue. In 2003, a New Hampshire court ruled a parental notification bill unconstitutional. I was moved by the reaction of New Hampshire residents. One mother said, and I quote, "I'm utterly appalled at the idea that my daughter can have such a devastating, procedure emotionally and physically, without my knowledge. The government is taking away my rights as a parent to be involved in the medical decisions of my minor child," end quote. Another parent added, and I quote, "So let me get this straight. I have to get a phone call from my daughter's school before they can give her an aspirin, but I'm not allowed to get a phone call from my daughter's doctor before they perform an abortion?," end quote. I have to agree with the parents. There's something terribly wrong with this picture.

GORDON: Ramona Edelin, scholar and vice chair of the Black Leadership Forum, says otherwise.

Ms. RAMONA EDELIN (Black Leadership Forum): It is so sad to think that any young woman faced with a crisis pregnancy would need to have an abortion without the help and support of her parents. But according to the NARAL Pro-Choice America Web site, the reality is that more than one million teens become pregnant unintentionally in the United States each year, and only 61 percent of them notify at least one parent. Most who do not are victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse or incest. It is precisely their parents to whom they cannot turn for support.

Recent debate about parental consent laws for minors seeking abortions misses this point. The laws are not necessary for the supportive families of the 61 percent, and they are downright cruel in the context of dysfunctional families where news of an unwanted pregnancy can cause physical or mental abuse and expulsion from the home. The legal requirement that parents be notified or that they give their consent can also delay the procedure, increasing the risk associated with later-term abortions. The American Medical Association opposes mandatory parental consent laws, and the American Academy of Pediatrics opposes parental involvement laws. In their medical, professional experience, the need for privacy and confidentiality of a teen's pregnancy too often leads young women to run away from home, obtain a back-alley abortion, resort to self-induced abortion or to suicide. How tragic.

The government cannot mandate healthy family communication. Parental consent laws do not reduce the rate of unwanted teen pregnancies, and they do not prevent determined young women from having abortions. We should be addressing the problem of making abortion less necessary, which is the root of the problem. In other countries, it has been proven that sex education, including the value of abstinence and information about contraception, reduce unwanted pregnancies. The US needs a 21st century, comprehensive approach to promoting adolescent health, disease prevention and reproductive and mental health so that we can affirm young womanhood and manhood and prevent teen pregnancy.

GORDON: Ramona Edelin is a scholar and vice chair of the Black Leadership Forum. We also heard from Niger Innis, national spokesperson for the Congress of Racial Equality.

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