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Undermining Parents

Access to Abortion and Contraception by Minors

By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, NOV. 13, 2007 (Zenit) - The authority of parents in caring for their children received a blow recently when the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that underage girls can seek abortions without parental consent. According to a Nov. 3 report by the Associated Press, the ruling upheld a Superior Court decision finding the 1997 Parental Consent Act to be unconstitutional.

In the ruling explaining the 3-2 decision, Chief Justice Dana Fabe stated that while they did agree the Constitution does permit a scheme that provides for parental notification, the law in question violated a minor's right to privacy.

By contrast, Justice Walter Carpeneti, who wrote the dissenting opinion, said that the act did balance the right to privacy with the state's interest in protecting children and the parents' right to guide their children.

Alaska's governor, Sarah Palin, described the judgment as "outrageous," according to the Associated Press. "The State Supreme Court has failed Alaska by separating parents from their children during such a critical decision, moving in the exact opposite direction from the law's intent," she commented.

According to a study by Stateline.org , a Washington, D.C.-based news service, states have passed two types of laws regarding abortion and parental involvement. The first requires one or both parents to approve the procedure, while the second merely requires doctors to notify parents before performing an abortion for a minor.

Overall, as of June 11 when the information was last updated, 22 states enforce parental consent laws requiring at least one parent to sign a statement approving the procedure. Another 12 states enforce parental notification laws. Utah enforces both consent and notification laws.

Legal problems

The laws have, however, run into legal problems in some states. In nine states, courts have rejected parental involvement statutes for violating privacy and equal-protection clauses in their state constitutions.

The usefulness of the parental consent laws on abortion was analyzed in a report published Feb. 5 by the Heritage Foundation. Michael J. New, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama, found that laws requiring the involvement of parents reduced the abortion rate of minors by an average of 16%.

Another type of pro-life legislation, restricting the public funding of abortion for underage girls, also notably reduced the abortion rate.

New argued that the importance of such pro-life legislation is often overlooked in explaining the decline of abortion among adolescents. Between 1985 and 1999, the minor abortion rate fell by almost 50%, compared with a 29% decline in the overall abortion rate. "While a number of factors may have contributed to this decline, the impact of pro-life legislation on the incidence of abortion among minors cannot be overlooked," he stated.

Contraceptives at school

Many countries are increasingly making it easy for schoolgirls to receive contraceptives, without informing parents. In England, the Telegraph newspaper reported on Oct. 30 that almost one in six 15-year-old girls were given contraception last year, even though at that age they were too young to legally have sex.

According to the article, 50,000 girls aged 15 attended contraception clinics in 2006-07, along with another 31,000 aged 13 or 14. The data came from the Information Center for Health and Social Care.

Mike Judge, a spokesman for the Christian Institute, commented on the statistics in the Telegraph. He urged giving them moral guidance and support, instead of distributing contraceptives. "Most women who look back on their teenage years regret starting sexual activity so early," he added.

Another report by the Telegraph, published July 9, explained that girls as young as 11 can obtain the morning-after pill at school without telling their parents. The pills are available at sexual health clinics in secondary schools in England, which are being set up as part of a drive to cut teenage pregnancy.

In the United States, meanwhile, school officials in the state of Maine defended their decision to allow children as young as 11 to obtain contraceptives, reported the Associated Press on Oct 18. Portland's King Middle School will become the first middle school in Maine to make a full range of contraception available, including birth control pills and patches.

Although students would need parental permission to use the city-run health center in the school, they wouldn't have to tell them they were seeking birth control.

Sex with a non-spousal minor under 14 is considered gross sexual assault in Maine. According to the Associated Press, officials said it was unclear whether nurses at the health center would be required to report such activities.

The clinics at Portland high schools have offered oral contraceptives for years, reported the New York Times on Oct. 21. Douglas Gardner, the city's director of health and human services, explained that health officials decided to extend their availability to middle school after learning that 17 middle school students had become pregnant in the last four years. The article reported that about a quarter of school-based clinics, most of them in high schools, provide some type of contraception.

Creating confusion

Bishop Richard Malone of Portland said he was shocked by the decision, reported the Boston Globe on Oct. 20. The Catholic prelate argued that the move would inevitably lead to more sexual experimentation among younger children.

He also expressed concern over the undermining of parents: "When contradictory messages are given to children from important authority figures such as parents and school officials, it can create more confusion and difficulty for children themselves in making this important life decision."

Apart from undermining parents, the move to spread contraceptive use among schoolchildren comes when many question marks exist over their safety.

An advisory panel of gynecologists, obstetricians and other experts told the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that manufacturers should collect more data on the potential side effects of birth control pills and other hormonal contraceptives after they reach the market, reported Reuters on Jan. 24. Nevertheless, panel members added that drug companies were unlikely to initiate such studies because of high costs and the potential to uncover negative effects.

Health concerns

A consumer body, the Public Citizen Health Research Group, also pressured for more research on safety problems, reported the New York Times on Feb. 13. Earlier this year the group petitioned the Food and Drug Administration to ban several popular low-dose oral contraceptives containing desogestrel, a synthetic form of the hormone progestin.

According to the article, the group cited more than a dozen studies indicating that these pills were linked to blood clots in women more often than older versions, which used different forms of progestin.

In an article published May 2, Andrea Mrozek, manager of research at the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada, wrote about the cancer risks of contraceptives. A meta-analysis conducted by Dr. Chris Kahlenborn, a Pennsylvania-based internist, show that being on the pill at a young age, before having children, increases the chance of developing breast cancer by an average of 44%, Mrozek wrote.

Kahlenborn's work was published late last year in the peer-reviewed journal of the world-renowned Mayo Clinic.

Ironically a Stateline.org report dated March 27 noted the tendency toward laws banning minors from activities such as smoking, drinking, and going to indoor tanning salons, due to health concerns.

This year, Utah and Virginia joined 25 other states in placing limits on teens using tanning beds, due to worries about cancer. Most of the laws, Stateline.org reported, require underage teens to get a parents' permission, but some states completely ban the salons for minors.

The article added that a number of other states are considering similar legislation. A culture that bans tanning, but gives the green light for contraception and abortion for school-age girls has indeed lost sight of what is important.

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