Parental Involvement Laws Have No Effect on Abortion Rates

Antiabortion activists claim that state laws requiring parental involvement for minors have been a major contributing factor to declining abortion rates in the United States. Studies prove them wrong.

activists repeatedly claim that state laws requiring parental involvement
(such as notification or consent) for minors to obtain abortions have
been a major contributing factor to declining abortion rates among minors
in the United States.

Michael New, a visiting fellow at the antiabortion advocacy organization
Family Research Council, posted an analysis on the organization’s
Web site that he claims "demonstrates that state level parental involvement
laws are effective in reducing the incidence of abortion among minors."
New’s analysis, which has not been published in a peer-reviewed journal,
has serious methodological flaws. Like many previous studies on the
subject, it is not able to substantiate the claim. 

In contrast,
there is strong evidence that the decline in minors’ abortion rates
is largely the result of fewer teen pregnancies, which, in turn, reflect
better contraceptive use among adolescents. Moreover, the evidence suggests
that even in the absence of parental involvement laws, some six in 10
minors involve at least one parent in their decision to have an abortion.
Mandating this involvement can be harmful to some minors.  

There is no strong
evidence that parental involvement laws have prevented many minors from
obtaining abortions

  • Most studies purporting
    to show a significant impact of such laws suffer from a range of serious
    methodological flaws. One common flaw of these studies (including New’s)
    is that they track abortions by state of occurrence, not by state of
    residence. By failing to account for minors traveling to neighboring
    states to obtain an abortion, it is impossible to prove that parental
    involvement laws caused overall declines in minors’ abortion rates,
    even if they may succeed in shifting the occurrence of abortions from
    one state to another.
  • Minors’ abortion
    rates have been declining steadily for years, both in states with and
    without parental involvement laws. Even in states with such laws, the
    declines often started well before these statutes became effective.
  • A study published
    in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2006 found that in
    the period immediately following implementation of a Texas parental
    notification law, the abortion rate among teens aged 15-17 in the
    state fell more sharply than it did among 18-year-olds, who were not
    subject to the law. The authors concluded that the law was
    associated with reduced abortion rates among minors and an increase
    in the birth rate among older minors. However, given the design of this
    study, causality cannot be proven. If the law has had this effect, it
    likely reflects the fact that all states bordering Texas, with the exception
    of New Mexico, also have a mandatory parental involvement law, which
    makes it extremely difficult for Texas minors to seek an abortion elsewhere.
    The sheer size of the state contributes to that difficulty. Should additional
    states enact such laws, thus giving the minority of teens who seek abortions
    without involving parents fewer places to turn, these types of restrictions
    may begin to have a measurable impact on adolescent abortion rates. 

Declines in minors’
abortion rates are largely the result of declines in their pregnancy

  • Declines in minors’
    abortion rates reflect the fact that fewer minors are becoming pregnant
    in the first place. Between 1989 and 2002, the pregnancy rate among
    minors aged 15-17 declined 43% to a historic low.
  • Most (77%) of the
    reduction in the pregnancy rate among minors was the result of improved
    contraceptive use among sexually active minors; the remainder (23%)
    was attributable to some minors waiting longer to initiate sex.

    Mandating parental
    involvement can be harmful
  • The most vulnerable
    and scared teens are put at greatest risk. Forcing teenagers to disclose
    to their parents that they are pregnant or seeking an abortion may place
    some teens at risk of physical violence or abuse. According to a 1992
    study, about one-third of teenagers who did not tell their parents about
    their decision to seek an abortion had experienced violence in their
    family, or feared that violence would occur or that they would be forced
    to leave home.
  • Legal impediments
    to teens’ access to abortion services can result in teens’ delaying
    abortions until later in pregnancy, when they carry a greater risk of
    complications and are also more expensive to obtain.
  • Many medical, public
    health and youth-serving organizations have consistently opposed laws
    and policies requiring mandatory parental involvement for abortion services.
    These organizations-made up of professionals who study and work most
    closely with teens-include the American Academy of Family Physicians,
    the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians
    and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association and the Society
    of Adolescent Medicine, among others. They agree that health care providers
    have an obligation to encourage adolescents to talk to their parents
    about sexual activity and reproductive health care, and that they have
    an important role in facilitating such conversations. At the same time,
    however, they uniformly state that minors should not be forced to involve
    their parents in their decision to obtain an abortion.