Parental Consent is Advised (and Anti-Choice)
Posted by Katherine
October 14, 2013
If you haven’t yet heard the story of Anonymous 5, the 16 year-old Nebraska Girl who had to ask the court system for permission to have an abortion and was denied because she is apparently “not sufficiently mature,” I apologize if I’m bumming you out with the complete ridiculousness of her situation. I’m also sorry to inform you, if it’s further news to you, that Anonymous 5’s case is hardly an uncommon one—that is if you live in any one of the 39 states that require parental notification and/or consent of an abortion.
Hint: that includes a whole lot of people.
See, the thing is, there’s this really strange thing where people think teenagers aren’t responsible enough to have sex, but if they do have sex, and they get pregnant, they need parental consent to decide to not be pregnant any longer. I call this “strange” because mandating into law that you must have your parent’s permission to have an abortion can very quickly lead young people’s rights and safety to be completely disregarded.
Now, I understand the sentiment behind parental consent. It presumes that young people should have open dialogue with their parents, and should be able to trust their parents: to be able to get advice from them that helps them make the best choice for their bodies. And really, it’d be so great if every kid could have that. It’d be lovely. It’d be astounding. It’d be a moment that called for party poppers and confetti. It’d be decidedly NOT the actual day-to-day reality for many young people.
Because, the thing is, I love the idea that young people, especially underage people who are denied so many individual liberties under the law, could speak to their parents’ concerning a health decision like seeking an abortion. But this necessitates that all parents actually have their child’s best interests at heart—or hell, that all children even have parents. For those whose don’t have a parental system of trust, parental consent laws leave many young people in the lurch concerning access to abortion.
What about the underage person with abusive parents? What about the underage person whose legal guardian has been appointed by the state? Hell, what about the underage person whose legal guardian is the state?
What about the underage person whose parent/guardian(s) would never give you permission to have an abortion, even though they are an independent, intelligent human being who is excercising their free will and believes an abortion to best the best decision for themselves? What about that? Does that not matter?
Because see, the real thing is, that parental consent laws, even though those in the public who aware of them believe them to have been enacted because of this presumed monolithic system of trust between parent/guardian(s) and those who they are given legal responsibility of, weren’t made to force open communication. They were made because it’s a very easy, and convenient, way to quickly gut young people’s access to choice. They are designed to play onto the reality that underage people are basically powerless in far too many way when it comes to the law of the land in the U.S.
Now granted, 38 of these 39 (side-eyeing you, Maryland) have systems for judicial bypass. But when you account for that fact of the money it costs to go through the system, having to take time off school, having to find transportation when you might not even have license—young people are hardly given a fighting chance. Even when they do get their day in court, young people are often told they’re not “mature” enough to make decisions about their bodies, but apparently, they’re mature enough to tackle the judicial system (which, if they’re having to seek the bypass in the first place, means they’re probably doing it with limited to nonexistent support) to prove the system wrong .
Anonymous 5 tried to use judicial bypass. Navigated it, in a dare I say, deeply mature fashion. And yet, a judge, someone who doesn’t even know her at all, can tell her she’s “not mature enough.” That her pregnancy and the choices concerning it are not her own. You know what? That sounds like a law operating with a pretty immature understanding of realities and needs of young people.