Under current Massachusetts law, young people under the age of 18 seeking abortion care must either obtain consent from a parent for abortion care or obtain judicial authorization for an abortion through a legal procedure known as a judicial bypass. This is one of the most restrictive and burdensome parental consent laws in New England, ultimately jeopardizing the health and wellbeing of young adults.
Many would agree that it is ideal for parents to be involved in a young woman’s reproductive health care decisions, including the challenging circumstance of an unintended pregnancy. In fact, research demonstrates that most young women do turn to their parents when considering an abortion, regardless of whether they live in states that mandate parental consent, as Massachusetts does.
However, the reality is that not all young women have family situations that allow them to safely turn to a parent to discuss options in the face of an unintended pregnancy. Unfortunately, some young women may face physical or emotional violence in the home if they disclose an unintended pregnancy. A young woman may be pregnant as a result of incest. In these situations, mandating parental consent to end a pregnancy may have serious consequences and can pose added risks to their health and well-being of some young adults. Moreover, obtaining a judicial bypass is an unduly complicated, burdensome, and potentially frightening process that may prevent young adults from seeking the reproductive health care they need.
The nation’s leading medical organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics, oppose parental consent laws because they impose barriers to care that can harm the young women they purport to protect. Such government mandates can increase the threat of violence in the home and expose a young woman to the health risks associated with delayed medical care and unwanted childbirth. They may also compel her to leave her home state for the health care she needs, to try to “hold out” until she turns 18, or to take more drastic measures, such as attempting self-harm.
A 2009 Guttmacher Institute analysis found that young women in Massachusetts seeking out-of-state care rose by a striking 300% after the parental consent law was adopted, while the in-state teen abortion rate decreased by a much smaller proportion.2 In addition, a study conducted in Texas showed that implementation of their parental involvement mandate led older teens to delay obtaining their abortions—long past the first trimester—until they had turned 18 and could consent to the procedure themselves.3
To better safeguard the health and wellbeing of young adults, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts’ top legislative priority for 2019-2020 is An Act to Remove Obstacles and Expand Abortion Access (SD109, HD2548) or the ROE Act. This bill would remove a number of barriers to abortion access in our state, including the harmful mandatory parental consent law.
NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts also supports An Act Relative to Healthy Youth (SD579, HD827), which would ensure that schools offering sexuality education provide young people with age-appropriate, medically accurate information – including both instruction about abstinence and effective use of contraceptives to prevent pregnancy and protect against diseases.
1 National Polling on Abortion Access, NARAL Pro-Choice America
2 The Impact of Laws Requiring Parental Involvement for Abortion: A Literature Review, Guttmacher Institute
3 Minors’ Behavioral Responses to Parental Involvement Laws: Delaying Abortion Until Age 18, Colman S and Joyce T, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health