Parental consent or notification laws which are now enforced in over half of the 50 states can violate the privacy of young women by forcing them to involve their parents in their decisions, even when that may endanger their lives or health.
Fearing that her parents' abusive treatment would magnify if she told them of her pregnancy, Laura contacted the NAF Hotline (1-800-772-9100) seeking information on obtaining a judicial bypass. More
Bill and Karen Bell
Sixteen years ago we would have supported legislation mandating parental involvement laws. Bills have been introduced by legislators to require minors under the age of 18 to notify their parents before obtaining an abortion, and to require minors to receive their parent's consent for an abortion. While these pieces of legislation seem reasonable on the surface, our experience has taught us that parental involvement laws seriously endanger the very families and teens they are intended to protect.
In 1988, our beautiful, vibrant, 17-year-old daughter Becky died suddenly, after a six-day illness. The pathologist who directed her autopsy concluded that the cause of her death was streptococcus pneumonia, brought about by an illegal abortion. Learning this, we finally understood our daughter's last words. In the hospital, she had taken off her oxygen mask and said, "Mom, Dad, I love you. Forgive me."
How could this have happened? Why would Becky have risked an illegal abortion? How could parents as close to their daughter as we had always been not have known that she was pregnant and desperate to deal with a situation that she believed she couldn't share with us?
We learned the sad answers to these questions in the weeks following our daughter's death. Becky had told her girlfriends that she believed we would be terribly hurt and disappointed in her if she told us about her pregnancy. Like a lot of young people, she was not comfortable sharing intimate details of her developing sexuality with her parents.
Becky discovered that our state has a parental consent law, which requires girls under the age of 18 to get their parent's permission before they can get an abortion. A Planned Parenthood counselor told her that she could apply for a judicial bypass as an alternative to parental consent. The counselor remembered Becky's response: "If I can't talk to my parents, how can I tell a judge who doesn't even know me?" We now know that in over ten years on the bench, the judge in our district has never issued a waiver to a teen for an abortion.
Desperate to avoid telling us about her pregnancy, and therefore unable to go to a reputable medical establishment, where abortions are provided compassionately and safely every day, Becky found someone operating outside the law who would help her. Becky had a back alley abortion. Indiana's parental involvement law ultimately led our daughter to her death.
Studies have established that the majority of teenagers (60-70%) do talk to their parents when they become pregnant. Of those who don't, about one-third are at risk of physical or emotional abuse. The rest, like Becky, believe for myriad reasons that this is a problem they must face without their parents.
Parental involvement laws further isolate girls in this last category, who feel it is impossible to turn to their parents, forcing them to instead make decisions and arrangements on their own.
All parents would want to know if their child was in a situation like Becky's. In fact, we would have supported the law in our state before we experienced the loss of our daughter. We have been forced to learn in the most painful way imaginable that laws cannot create family communication. We would rather have not known that our daughter had had an abortion, if it meant that she could have obtained the best of care, and come back home safely to us.
Many of you have daughters and granddaughters, and we are sure that you would want to be involved in any issues relating to their health and well-being - just as we did. Yet, the law in Indiana did not force Becky to involve us at her most desperate time.
As much as we would have wanted to help Becky through this crisis, the law did not succeed in forcing her to talk to us about issues she found too upsetting to share with us. For the sake of other parents' daughters, we urge legislators who are considering these very dangerous bills to remember Becky Bell, and to pass no laws that will increase the chances that even one desperate girl will feel that her only choice is an illegal abortion.
The law in Indiana did not make Becky come to us. Will other parental involvement laws be any different?