Tuesday, March 18, 2008

New Hampshire Rejects Dangerous Abortion Restrictions

Last week, the New Hampshire House struck down four separate bills that would have required parental consent or notification for a minor's abortion.

Two of the bills would mandate that parents be informed before a minor daughter's abortion, while another would require that parents consent to the procedure. A fourth would require abortion providers to check the residency of teens before performing the procedure to be sure their clients aren't evading laws of their home states. All four bills failed by wide margins.

The parental notification debate has become a perennial one in New Hampshire. In 2003, the state passed a parental notification law that never took effect due to court challenges. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the law must contain a health exception; last year, the Legislature repealed the law rather than rewrite it.

[. . .]

"Mandating parental notification for all young women seeking an abortion will not protect the teens who live in family situations that are troubled at best," said Bette Lasky, a Nashua Democrat.

The parental notification bill failed, 190-128. A broader bill that would require medical professionals to notify parents when treating a minor fell 207-111. The parental consent bill also failed, 211-109.

Out-of-state minors were the focus of another bill, which would have required abortion providers to look up and follow the laws of the girls' home states.

Most other states have either parental notification or parental consent laws - by Wendelboe's tally, 82 percent do - and Republicans argued that New Hampshire should honor those. "New Hampshire is in danger of becoming an abortion destination state," said Rep. Gregory Sorg, an Easton Republican.

But Democrats argued that the bill would force abortion providers to have encyclopedic knowledge of other states' laws and that the law could affect the rights of college students, among others. The bill failed, 210-106.

Parental notification and consent laws are some of the most popular kinds of restrictive abortion measures. Even many people who consider themselves pro-choice see parental notification as entirely proper. It's an issue that can feel very personal; of course, all parents would want to know about their daughter's abortion.

Unfortunately, this mindset misses the fact that not all families are as happy as their own. Many teens live in abusive households, or risk a parent refusing the abortion all together. Even laws that simply call for notification could easily result in a parent preventing the abortion, despite their daughter's legal right to one. For most people, it is unthinkable that a parent might force his or her daughter to give birth against her will, or turn violent against her upon hearing about a pregnancy. But sadly, situations like these are a reality.

And yet, 35 states have parental notification or consent laws in effect (NY is not one of them). In 2003, the New Hampshire parental notification law was struck down because it did not include a health exception -- meaning that an underage girl in need of an emergency abortion or abortion for health reasons would have still needed to notify a parent. In a situation like this, lives are placed at risk. The overruling of the law was great news, but there are more reasons to oppose parental notification and consent laws than potential emergency situations.

As it turns out, in states where there are no parental notification or consent laws, 61% of teen girls who had abortions informed at least one parent. Thirty-percent of those who did not cited a history of violence, fear of violence, or fear of being kicked out of the house and left homeless. All teens who did not inform a parent did discuss the decision with another trusted person, and teens who did not inform a parent were generally significantly older than teens that did. Furthermore, of teens having abortions after 16 weeks gestation, a shocking 63% said that the delay was due to fear over telling their parents.

Fear of notification isn't the only obstacle. Some laws take things a step further by requiring parental consent -- meaning that a parent can legally prevent his or her daughter from having an abortion. By many, this is considered the point. Other laws require the consent or notification of both parents, creating legal troubles for those whose parents are estranged or in unknown whereabouts. Though obtaining a judge's permission to waive the notification or consent requirement is possible, it's also time-consuming and burdensome. And it's worth noting that these attempts can fail.

Most ridiculous of all, the consent and notification requirements are not consistent with other laws regarding medical care for minors. Thirty-two states allow at least some minors to obtain contraceptive services without parental notification. All 50 states allow teens to be tested for STDs without parental consent. Amazingly, 34 states allow teens to obtain prenatal and birth services without parental notification. Many of these states are the same ones that require notification or consent for abortion! This is despite the fact that legal abortion is statistically safer than giving birth. Clearly, these laws are far more ideological than medically reasonable.

A big thanks to New Hampshire lawmakers for doing the right thing and standing up for the health of all women.

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