onsent” laws are not helpful

I am always amused when local residents write to this newspaper and express views that are long on emotion and short on good sense. Recently, for example, a number of letters appeared on the topic of whether or not Virginia should have a law which requires parental consent before a woman under age 18 can get an abortion. Such a law would, of course, go beyond statutes in most states that require merely notification of one parent or the other.

The writers most of whom are men demonstrated at best a superficial understanding of the issue and the facts that underlie it. On Feb. 12, for example, a person wrote that Virginia’s proposed consent law was a good idea because “Parents are supposed to help their children make these hard decisions.” What? We already have that with the notification law. What the writer really meant was that he wanted veto power over teen abortions. Why didn’t he just say so? There is no need to dance around the issue. Other matters that writers do not adequately consider:

Parents who are stridently against abortions may think that a consent law will strengthen their hand in dealing with their daughters. They will simply refuse to consent to abortions for them. Thus, with the power of state law on their side, the parents can theoretically force their daughter to carry a pregnancy to term, even though the medical risks are ten times greater than with a first-trimester abortion. In my book, that is child abuse. Note that a special problem arises if the young woman is 17 1/2 and wishes to terminate an unintended pregnancy. The non-consenting parents again can theoretically prevent the procedure, but this time for only six months. The young woman could then get an abortion regardless of what her parents say, but it would be a risky second-trimester procedure. Is such a policy in the young woman’s best interest?

As a practical matter, parental notification and consent are both difficult to arrange, and the anti-abortion crowd knows that in fact, they are counting on it. Half of all marriages nowadays end in divorce; thus, large numbers of young women grow up in single-family households. In cases of shared custody, it can be argued that neither parent has the exclusive right to consent to a teen abortion. So what happens? The lawyers jump in and the former spouses refight their divorce case while trying to determine who has what rights. Meanwhile, the young woman’s condition remains unresolved.

Finally, both notification and consent laws encourage computer-savvy teens to simply circumvent the law rather than seek assistance and support from parents. For $22 a young woman can get an official photo identification card from the International Student Travel Confederation (www.istc.org), which is a legitimate and respected organization. As part of the application process, the teen must supply a photocopy of a birth certificate (need I say more?). Other organizations on the Internet will provide official-looking identification cards that include a photo, birth date, signature strip, magnetic strip, hologram and state seal.

If parents want to limit teen abortions they must first address the issue of teen sexuality. Planned Parenthood and other responsible organizations have long argued that abortions should be safe, legal and rare. Further, they say the best way to accomplish this is through realistic, comprehensive sex education in high schools and colleges. Conservatives and others in the anti-choice crowd refuse to go along, however, arguing instead that “abstinence” is the only answer. They, of course, are wrong and that is why teen pregnancy and teen abortion problems persist.

Gary Jacobsen lives in Woodbridge.

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