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THREATS TO ABORTION RIGHTS/Parental Involvement Bills

One of the most common types of abortion restrictions enacted at the state level are laws limiting a minor's right to access abortion care. These bills generally require parental consent or parental notification before a minor can obtain an abortion.


In 2006, Utah enacted a new law to require teens to both notify their parents and obtain their consent before an abortion. Oklahoma also placed additional restrictions on teens in the state by amending their existing parental notice law to require both notice and the written consent of one parent.

In November of 2006, voters in Oregon and California were asked to consider ballot initiatives mandating parental notification before a minor could obtain an abortion in each state. Oregon voters soundly defeated the measure by a margin of 55% to 44%. The California parental involvement measure was also defeated by a margin of 54% to 46%, an even larger margin than that which defeated a similar measure in 2005.

What They Do

Forty-four states have passed laws requiring either parental notification or consent, in some cases even by both parents. The Supreme Court has upheld parental involvement laws, but requires states to implement a "judicial bypass" mechanism, allowing minors to seek a court order rather than notifying their parents or obtaining their consent. The option of judicial bypass is not always a reality. For many minors, this is a frightening and daunting process. In some states the judicial bypass process is gravely flawed, and almost always results in delays for the minor in obtaining an abortion. The few states that have not yet passed parental involvement laws threaten to do so every year.

Many states that already have parental involvement laws on their books continue to introduce new parental involvement bills each year. The bills often impose new, stricter standards. For example, some states have added notarization requirements, increased the requirement from notice to consent, and made the judicial bypass mechanism more difficult for minors to access and navigate.

In addition, there is a new trend in parental involvement bills: bills that place various restrictions on a minor's ability to travel to another state for an abortion. Such bills can penalize even family members who help teenagers access their full reproductive health options.

Dangers Of Parental Involvement Bills

Parental involvement bills pose a serious threat to the health of young women, and restrictive abortion laws may worsen family communication rather than promote it.

Even without state laws, in most cases parents know about their daughter's decision to have an abortion.1 The young women who do not tell their parents often do so for compelling reasons such as emotional or physical abuse or incest. Rather than tell their parents, some teenagers resort to unsafe, illegal abortions, or try to perform the abortion themselves. In doing so, they risk serious injury and death.

In addition, teenagers are already more likely than older women to delay seeking reproductive health care.2 When teens know that they are forced by law to tell their parents or get their permission before obtaining care, they are less likely to access reproductive health care services in a timely manner.3 Although abortion is extremely safe, it is safest when completed earlier in pregnancy. Delays caused by these laws can result in increased health risks.4


  1. See generally Jane's Due Process, Inc., 2001 Semi-Annual Report 3 (Jan. 22-July 22, 2001), at 3. See also S.K. Henshaw and K. Kost, "Parental Involvement in Minor's Abortions Decisions," Family Planning Perspectives, 24:196-207, 213, 1992, on the same point.
  2. Planned Parenthood v. Farmer, 762 A.2d 620, 633 (N.J. 2000) (discussing the physiological, cognitive, and financial factors that help explain why teenage women, as a group, generally take longer to decide whether to have an abortion).
  3. For example, following the enactment of Missouri's parental consent law, second trimester abortions by minors increased by 17%. (Guttmacher Institute calculations based on data from Vicky Howell Pierson, "Missouri's Parental Consent Law and Teen Pregnancy Outcomes," (1995).)
  4. See Guttmacher Institute, Facts in Brief: Induced Abortions, available at http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html (Feb. 2000), finding that the risk of death associated with abortion increases with the length of pregnancy, from 1 death for every 500,000 abortions at 8 or fewer weeks to 1 per 27,000 at 16-20 weeks and 1 per 8,000 at 21 or more weeks.

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