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The Moral Case for Parental Consent &
Joe Kral, M.A. | 16 August 2019
In mid-July, over 80 organizations that support abortion published a report entitled a Blueprint for Sexual and Reproductive Health, Rights, and Justice.[i] The report is rather extensive and as Ms. Laura Echevarria states in her article briefly analyzing the narrative, it is “focused on one goal: abortion anywhere, anytime, for anyone — at any cost.”[ii] The aim of these organizations and this blueprint is to lay the groundwork to not only further entrench the legalization of abortion, but to also repeal pro-life laws that have already been passed.
One such law they seek to repeal are the various parental consent and notification laws that most of the states have in place. These laws are based on the basic premise that minor girls need to be protected from making dangerous medical decisions since they are not fully capable of understanding the ramifications of abortion. It is normally argued that the parents of the minor girl have a more complete picture of her medical history and have a more mature understanding of the potential consequences they face when it comes to abortion complications. Another concern and need for parental involvement laws lobbying stems from the fact that it is not unheard of for a minor girl to be impregnated by an adult male.
It is important to look at these points and assess why these laws are needed. One should understand that when Roe v. Wade was decided it erased any prohibition on abortion. As a result, all the states had no laws mandating that a minor girl’s parents had to be notified or give consent in order for her to have the abortion. In essence, in addition to the evil of Roe becoming the law of the land, it allowed other evils in as well. In this case, it was taking parents out of the equation regarding their minor daughter’s decision when it came to abortion. This is a problem for the reasons stated in the preceding paragraph. But there is a little more to the aforementioned reasons as to why the states need to pass such laws.
Again, the principle of incrementalism provides a basis to look at the moral reasons why a state needs such laws. As stated in Evangelium Vitae the principle asserts,
A particular problem of conscience can arise in cases where a legislative vote would be decisive for the passage of a more restrictive law, aimed at limiting the number of authorized abortions, in place of a more permissive law already passed or ready to be voted on. Such cases are not infrequent. It is a fact that while in some parts of the world there continue to be campaigns to introduce laws favoring abortion, often supported by powerful international organizations, in other nations-particularly those which have already experienced the bitter fruits of such permissive legislation-there are growing signs of a rethinking in this matter. In a case like the one just mentioned, when it is not possible to overturn or completely abrogate a pro-abortion law, an elected official, whose absolute personal opposition to procured abortion was well known, could licitly support proposals aimed at limiting the harm done by such a law and at lessening its negative consequences at the level of general opinion and public morality. This does not in fact represent an illicit cooperation with an unjust law, but rather a legitimate and proper attempt to limit its evil aspects.[iii]
It is clear that Roe is the evil law since it sanctions the unjust killing of the unborn through abortion. It is also clear that the decision is not likely to be overturned by another US Supreme Court decision or through an amendment to the US Constitution anytime soon. So, pro-life advocates need to limit the various evil aspects of abortion that they can in order to prevent the evil law from doing any more harm. In this case it is to uphold the principle of subsidiarity. The principle can be defined as such, “The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which ‘a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.’”[iv] The state has an obligation to uphold the family and not to deprive the family of its proper functions. Morally speaking, it is obvious that not allowing a parent to be involved in the minor daughter’s decision to receive a risky invasive surgical procedure is depriving the family of its proper function. The usual norm is that parents must consent to any medical procedure that will be done to their child; to the point that schools will not even give a child an aspirin unless a parent consents to it. The reason why the usual norm is in accordance with morality is because objective truth recognizes that it is the parents that are the primary caretakers of their children since it is their duty precisely as parents to ensure the health and safety of their child.
Roe deprived parents of this ability partially by denying them the ability to even know about the possibility that their minor daughter was even considering an abortion and so parental consent and notification laws helped to fully restore that faculty.
Furthermore, it must be noted that what was even more troublesome is that it also left many parents in the dark that their daughter was pregnant to begin with. A 1998 study found that roughly two-thirds of adolescent pregnant minors had partners over the age of 20.[v] It would appear that many young minors are the victims of statutory rape. Furthermore, this would also incline a criminal who has statutorily raped a minor to cover the traces of his crime if he is able to by aborting the unborn child, especially in a state where there is no parental involvement law. A recent case in South Dakota indicates the lengths that some criminals will go to.[vi] In this case a 15 year old girl was transported from South Dakota, where a parental notification law is in place, by her adult 25 year old “boyfriend” to Colorado, a state that has no parental involvement law. There they were able to obtain the abortion. However, South Dakota detectives were able to receive DNA evidence because the remains of the unborn child were considered “medical waste” under Colorado law. Officials are pursuing statutory rape charges against the adult male who tried to circumvent the South Dakota law. It is clear that parental notification and consent laws can be effective in helping thwart predatory adult males. In fact, a 2008 study by Dr. Michael New indicated that in the years after Texas had implemented its parental notification law, the teen abortion rate had decreased as well.[vii]
Dr. New’s study indicates that one of two possibilities occur after any state implements a parental involvement law: 1) that adolescent girls had fewer abortions, but teen pregnancy rates stayed the same, or 2) both teen abortion and pregnancy rates fell. But what is seen is a reduction in even teen pregnancy rates as indicated by a 2019 article by Dr. New which suggests the answer is more likely the second option.[viii] [ix] Why is this the case? Well, it would certainly seem that the law has something to do with it. This gets into more of the ethical and philosophical aspects of a law and what it is. Law, in classical tradition, is meant to help direct behavior towards virtue. On this point St. Thomas Aquinas clearly agrees with Aristotle, “And since law is given for the purpose of directing human acts; as far as human acts conduce to virtue, so far does law make men good. Wherefore the Philosopher says in the second book of the Politics (Ethic. ii) that "lawgivers make men good by habituating them to good works."[x] Since law is to direct peoples’ behavior in such a way as to help them become virtuous it seems that this is the connective “tissue” that helps one understand why teenage abortion and pregnancy rates fall. The parental involvement law is directing a behavior that simply says 1) parents are the primary caretakers for their children and 2) premature sexual activity has consequences. Not only does it direct the behavior of the child, parental involvement laws direct the behavior of parents by giving them their full custodial duties. In many ways, these laws have saved many unborn lives and have saved adolescent girls a lifetime of regret for committing a grave immoral deed.
The simple fact is that, incrementally speaking, parental involvement laws help direct a state to a greater acceptance of the Culture of Life. It is clear they limit the evil of abortion by recognizing parents as the primary caretakers regarding the health of their minor child. It also limits the harm by cleaning up a legal loophole that would allow sexual predators to get away with their crimes. Furthermore, it helps society move away from a general acceptance of abortion on demand. The law helps society realize that abortion can be wrong in certain circumstances. As more pro-life laws are passed the more society realizes why abortion is evil.
It is important states that have already passed these laws be on guard. Illinois, at the moment has just passed a law enshrining abortion on demand and now many legislators are trying to repeal its parental notification law.[xi] Laws are meant to help people see virtue such as justice and temperance, not to promote such vices such as lust, sloth, and vanity. Vice only leads to a culture of death and it is the job of pro-life legislative advocates to foster legislation that helps show just how valuable human life really is.
[i] You may view the report here: https://reproblueprint.org/ (retrieved August 15, 2019).
[ii] Echevarria, Laura, National Review, “Abortion ‘Blueprint’ Would Strip Fundamental Right”, July 18, 2019. The article may be viewed here: https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/07/abortion-blueprint-threatens-fundamental-rights/.
[iii] Evangelium Vitae, No. 73.
[iv] Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1883.
[v] American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Adolescence, “Adolescent Pregnancy – Current Trends and Issues: 1998”, 103 Pediatrics 516.
[x] Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologica, I-II, Q. 92, A. 1.
Joe Kral, M.A., President of the Society of St. Sebastian and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Bioethics in Law & Culture Quarterly.