Alaskan Superior Court Judge John Suddock upheld a law earlier this month that requires minors in the state of Alaska to notify a parent before obtaining an abortion.
In the US, most states require minors to obtain notification or consent when seeking an abortion. Parental involvement is required for a minor seeking an abortion in 37 states: 22 require parental consent to the procedure, 11 require parental notification, and 5 require both notification and consent. In the past, the constitutionality of restrictive abortion laws has been determined by considering whether the law places an “undue burden” on a woman seeking an abortion. Spousal notification and consent has been deemed unconstitutional using this criterion; parental notification or consent, however, has been upheld as constitutional.
These restrictive abortion laws are meant to encourage parental involvement in minor’s abortions—making the assumption that all young people who need an abortion come from supportive families and homes. Judicial bypasses are allowed in 36 of the 37 states that require parental involvement. If a minor cannot obtain consent or does not wish to notify her parents of her abortion, she must stand up in front of a judge and explain why in order to obtain a judicial bypass. Most people would consider this process “undue burden.” If we consider the young people who come from homes with differing religious or political views than their own, teenagers with abusive parents, or cases where the young woman was raped or sexually assaulted by a family member, keeping her abortion secret can be difficult enough. Requiring extra time off of work or school, arranging transportation, and reliving emotional stress to explain it all to a judge is medically unnecessary—though the courts do not seem to agree.
Regarding the recent decision in Alaska, Judge Suddock “found abortion was, by and large, safe, and that parental notification didn’t make it safer” and that most teens who sought abortions in Alaska “were largely mature enough to make their own decisions”. Despite these statements, Suddock also wrote that he believes upholding the parental notifications law “will prod some pregnant minors to alert their parents without adverse consequence.” He also stated “minors might be pleasantly surprised when (they find they) underestimated parents’ support, comfort…”
Suddock’s 65-page report on the law also reported that the parental notification law did not violate a minor’s right to privacy or due process—despite the fact that a minor could obtain prenatal and birth care without parental involvement.
While the number of US teens who have abortions is decreasing thanks to increased contraception use, the need for safe, legal, and accessible abortions in still prevalent. Restrictive laws like the one requiring parental notification in Alaska can prevent young people from getting the healthcare they need in a timely fashion. Making it harder for someone to get an abortion only increases the gestational age at which abortion occurs, and requirements for judicial bypasses or parental consent can delay the procedure past the legal limit, effectively forcing a woman to continue an unwanted pregnancy.
We cannot go on pretending like these laws are harmless precautions. They are part of the War on Women just as much as the transvaginal ultrasounds and the mandatory waiting periods. Parental notification laws are legislating “family values” based on a specific notion of family that does not match most young women’s reality. If we really care about children and families, we need to make it harder to become a parent, not harder to avoid becoming one.
Written by Brenna McCaffrey