When faced with an unintended pregnancy, 77 percent of pregnant teens turn to a parent or other trusted adult. But, for young adults who can’t, the current law in Massachusetts puts their health and well-being at risk.
Currently, 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. Judicial bypass court proceedings unnecessarily delay care, increase health care costs, and feel intimidating and stressful for young people. Judicial bypass also disproportionately impacts teens of color and teens from low-income backgrounds.
Many would agree that it is ideal for parents to be involved in a young adult’s reproductive health care decisions, including the challenging circumstance of an unintended pregnancy. However, the reality is that not all teens have family situations that allow them to safely turn to a parent to discuss options in the face of an unintended pregnancy. Unfortunately, some may face physical or emotional violence in the home if they disclose an unintended pregnancy. A young person may be pregnant as a result of incest. In these situations, the judicial bypass barrier may have serious consequences and can pose added risks to teens’ health and safety.
The nation’s leading medical organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Academy of Pediatrics, oppose parental consent laws because they restrict access to care to care that can harm the young people they purport to protect. Such government mandates can increase the threat of violence in the home and expose a teenager to the health risks associated with delayed medical care and unwanted childbirth. These barriers may also compel a teen to leave their home state for the health care they need, to try to “hold out” until they turn 18, or to take more drastic measures, such as attempting self-harm.
A 2009 Guttmacher Institute analysis found that the number of teens in Massachusetts seeking out-of-state abortion 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.1 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.2
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 protect abortion access for young people and remove a number of barriers to abortion access in our state, including the judicial bypass system.
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 The Impact of Laws Requiring Parental Involvement for Abortion: A Literature Review, Guttmacher Institute
2 Minors’ Behavioral Responses to Parental Involvement Laws: Delaying Abortion Until Age 18, Colman S and Joyce T, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health