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Is Parental Involvement in Abortion a Must?
Abortion is undoubtedly one of the most controversial debate issues in modern American society. Public attitude towards abortion, for instance, has waxed and waned for decades. At the center of the debate in the United States is the morality of abortion . Proponents of legal abortion argue that legalizing the procedure upholds a woman’s right and control over her body. On the other hand, opponents of abortion argue that the procedure is immoral for it takes away the life of the unborn. Indeed, more conservative groups like Christian fundamentalists perceive abortion as tantamount to murder. It is important to note, however, that the politics of abortion is more complicated than just the issue of morality. In many developing countries in the global south, abortion and poverty are inextricably intertwined. Another aspect often overlooked in this issue is parental involvement, which is essentially the act of notifying parents or securing their consent before the procedure is performed on a minor. Although parental involvement in abortion is as contentious as the main issue of abortion itself, with equally compelling arguments in support of and against making it mandatory.
Underage Unintended Pregnancy
Understanding the issue of parental involvement necessitates understanding the issue of unintended pregnancy among underage women. Teenage pregnancy is a global concern. The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that there are around 21 million pregnancies among teenagers aged 15-19 years every year (WHO, 2022).
Available statistical data from the American Civil Liberties Union or ACLU (2022), around 850,000 women under the age of 18 years get pregnant each year. Around 82% of this number is unintended. Meanwhile, the Office of Population Affairs or ASH (2022) reports that 28% of pregnancies among adolescents aged 15-17 end in abortion. But despite these alarming numbers, the rate of teenage pregnancy has actually declined in the past few years. Researchers attribute the decline to delayed sexual intercourse among teenagers and the increased use of contraceptives (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2022).
While abortion can be legally performed on minors, parental involvement is mandated in most regions. The recent overturning of abortion as a constitutional right in Dobbs v. Jackson is expected to result in many changes to legislation. However, if clinics remain open and accessible , parental involvement will continue as a crucial consideration. According to the Guttmacher Institute (2020), 37 states in the US currently mandate one or more forms of parental involvement for abortion in minors: 21 states mandate only parental consent; 10 states require only parental notification; and 6 states require both parental notification and parental consent. In some states, parental notification and parental consent should come from both parents. Some states also mandate the submission of identification for parents as well as proof of parenthood.
The Judicial Bypass Process
In cases where minors refuse to involve parents in their decision, they can opt for the judicial bypass process. As the term suggests, this process involves asking the courts to waive the parental involvement requirement and allow a minor to undergo an abortion. The judicial bypass process is considered a reasonable alternative when a minor cannot involve a parent. For instance, common concerns minors have regarding parental involvement include being forced to continue the pregnancy, being disowned and losing support, and having minimal to non-existent relationships with their parents (Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health [ANSIRH], 2020). There are downsides to the judicial bypass process, however. For one, many minors encounter judges who are opposed to abortion, which in turn increases the chances of the minors being turned down. For another, this process can be highly bureaucratic, thus delaying the procedure. Finally, the criteria for granting the request vary among states (ANSIRH, 2020). For example, only 15 states waive parental involvement if the minor demonstrates psychological maturity to make the decision. Meanwhile, only 15 states may waive the requirement for cases of sexual abuse, incest, or negligence.
Should Parental Involvement Be Mandated?
There are many arguments in support of and against mandating parental involvement, and one of these is that having parents involved adds a layer of protection and security to minors who get abortions. Going through the process of aborting a pregnancy, from consultation to after the procedure itself, can be extremely stressful for minors. Having parents involved in the decision-making can significantly lessen the burden of dealing with the matter. In fact, statistical data shows that most minors prefer to involve their parents in their decisions. The presence of parents also gives them the opportunity to provide proper guidance to minors as well as communicates the fact that minors are not alone (Sanger, 2017). Another argument in favor of parental involvement is that it protects healthcare centers from malpractice suits as well as looks out for the welfare of minors. By law, minors cannot undergo medical procedures without the consent of their parents or guardians. Now, an abortion is a major medical procedure, which causes proponents of parental involvement to argue that it should not be treated any differently (Jaggar, 2018). Finally, many also want to make parental involvement mandatory because it lowers abortion rates. There is some evidence that involving parents encourages many minors to reconsider getting an abortion. Some researchers theorize that the change of mind may be the result of minors realizing that they have a support system that could help them go through with the pregnancy and childrearing (Joyce et al., 20220).
Despite these provisions and the clear positive impact of parental consent, there are equally compelling reasons why parental involvement should not be made mandatory. One of these arguments asserts that parental involvement unnecessarily prolongs the procedure. Securing parental consent can be a long and bureaucratic process, especially when laws require parents to prove parenthood. Submission of many documents that might not be readily available, for instance, can add days or weeks to the entire procedure. As a result, the timeliness of the procedure and the quality of the experience of minors tend to suffer (White et al., 2021). The delay, in turn, could have real negative consequences for minors’ health, since abortion in the later stages of pregnancy carries more risks of health complications. Another argument against mandatory parental involvement is that minors do not always have positive relationships with their parents. Statistics show that approximately more than 50% of children today live in non-traditional households. The Pew Research Center reports that only 46% of children in 2014 lived with both parents who are in their first marriage; 54% live in non-traditional setups which include households without parents, households that include step-parents and half or step-siblings, and households where children live with adult guardians rather than parents (Livingston, 2014). Hence, it can be expected that many minors seeking abortion do not have ideal relationships with their parents, which in turn means that these parents are not always in a position to know what is best for their children. Furthermore, the issue of domestic abuse adds another layer of complication to the issue. Parents who have committed negligence of violence against their children are hardly in the position to determine if their children should or should not go through with the procedure.
The battle for legalizing abortion is likely to continue in the coming years, especially given how legislation and public attitude keep changing over time. But the issue of parental involvement should not be neglected. There are many good reasons why parents should be notified when their minor children seek an abortion, but the assumption that parents should always be involved or have the final say simply because they are the parents is far from ironclad. The intervention of parents can be beneficial or detrimental, depending on the specific circumstances of each case. It is the task of legislators, policymakers, the judicial system, and advocate groups, therefore, to establish a sophisticated system that puts the interests and rights of minors above all including those of parents.
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Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health. (2020, October 13). The judicial bypass process delays abortion for adolescents . University of California San Francisco. https://www.ansirh.org/research/research/judicial-bypass-process-delays-abortion-adolescents
American Civil Liberties Union. (2022). Laws restricting teenagers’ access to abortion. https://www.aclu.org/other/laws-restricting-teenagers-access-abortion
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, November 17). CDCs Abortion Surveillance System FAQs. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/data_stats/abortion.htm
Guttmacher Institute. (2020). Parental involvement in minors’ abortions . https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/parental-involvement-minors-abortions
Jaggar, A. M. (2018). Living with contradictions: Controversies in feminist social ethics . Routledge.
Joyce, T. J., Kaesner, R., & Ward, J. M. (2021). The impact of parental involvement laws on the abortion rate of minors. Demography, 57 , 232-346. doi: 10.1007/s13524-019-00853-8
Livingston, G. (2014, December 24). Fewer than half of U.S. kids today live in a ‘traditional’ family . Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/12/22/less-than-half-of-u-s-kids-today-live-in-a-traditional-family/
Office of Population Affairs. (2022). Trends in teen pregnancy and childrearing. https://opa.hhs.gov/adolescent-health/reproductive-health-and-teen-pregnancy/trends-teen-pregnancy-and-childbearing
Sanger, C. (2017). About abortion: Terminating pregnancy in twenty-first century America. Harvard University Press.
White, K., Narasimhan, S., Hartwig, S. A., Carroll, E., McBrayer, A., Hubbard, S., Rebouche, R., Kottke, M., & Hall, K. S. (2021). Parental involvement policies for minors seeking abortion in the southeast and quality of care. Sexuality Research and Social Policy, 19, 264-272. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13178-021-00539-0
World Health Organization. (2022, September 15). Adolescent pregnancy . https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/adolescent-pregnancy
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