No to Parental Notification
The sovereign State of California will be conducting an election on November 8, where voters will cast ballots on several propositions. One of the measures, Proposition 73, imposes a waiting period and parental notification before a teenage girl under the age of 18 can have an abortion. The proposition would amend the California Constitution to prohibit the termination of the pregnancy of a minor until 48 hours after the physician notifies the parents or guardians. There is an exception for a medical emergency, and the girl could petition a juvenile court judge to waive the parental notification requirements.
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor
In 1987 California enacted a law that required permission from a parent or a court for the termination of a girl’s pregnancy. This was overturned by the state supreme court in 1997. So this time the proponents seek to put the measure into the state constitution.
This issue is important generally, as over 30 states already have laws requiring parental notification or consent, and other states and countries could be considering the issue. It raises basic moral and governmental questions. Those who favor such laws justify them as a way to reduce teenage pregnancy. But teen pregnancies are already falling in the US and California.
One of the consequences of mandatory parental notification is that frightened pregnant teenagers would prefer an illegal abortion to a confrontation with her parents. It is an unfortunate fact that there are families with highly authoritarian or even violent parents who would beat up, disown, expel, or even murder their teenage daughter if they found out she is pregnant. The girl would be afraid even to petition a court, since the petition could be rejected, or the news could leak out. She will seek to do the abortion on her own or go to another state or to Mexico to have it done.
There is also the governmental issue of whether such a legal requirement should be in the California State Constitution, which is already much too long and cluttered with legalities that should be statutes rather than constitutional clauses. A virtue of the US Constitution is that it is short and so can be read in is entirety by ordinary citizens. Those who want to add measures such as the prohibition of flag burning would not only enact bad law but clutter up the Constitution. If the advocates fear that making parental notification a statute because it would be overturned, then this very likely shows that it is in fact bad legislation.
The deeper moral issue is whether parents have the moral right to be notified, or whether the girl has the moral right of autonomy, and hence not be required to notify. Parents do have moral rights regarding their children and properly have authority over them, and may properly set rules for their children regarding bed time, chores, cleanliness, health, and education. But the children are fully human persons who also have moral rights. A parent does not have the moral right to inflict needless pain on the child. The child is morally not a slave of the parents. So on whom does the notification right fall?
In my judgement and analysis, when in doubt, where there are arguments on both sides of the issue, it is best to lean on the side of individual autonomy. An unplanned, unwanted, pregnancy has profound psychological consequences on the girl, and other people knowing about it also has major psychological consequences. It is bad enough to be confronted with the trauma of either having an unwanted child or else having to kill the potential child. The sorrow is compounded into shame, anguish, and a lifelong stigma of parents and others knowing about it and possibly thinking that the girl shamed and disgraced the family. Because such effects are profound and life-long, the girl should be able to have a choice over these consequences.
Human beings are morally individually sovereign and have the natural right to autonomy, with the ownership of their own body and life. A person has a moral copyright to his or her own personal history. She should not be forced to divulge personal history, as this is her property. Young children do not have the maturity and judgmental ability to know when secrets are harmful to themselves, but if a girl is old enough to get pregnant, she has achieved sufficient reasoning ability to be able to judge whether her personal history should be shared or not, so long as others are not being coercively harmed or threatened.
The age of adulthood in the USA is 18; this is a somewhat arbitrary bright line. In many jurisdictions, girls younger than that may marry. There is no magic age regarding when a girl should be autonomous regarding her pregnancy. The least arbitrary policy is to let nature set the age, namely, when she is able to become pregnant.
This is of course a highly controversial issue where reasonable people may disagree. If my analysis is sound, then the universal ethic endows teenage girls with ownership rights over their personal history, and with right of autonomy regarding pregnancy, and she should be able to terminate it in secret. Therefore, mandatory parental notification should be rejected.
Fred Foldvary on The Right to Abortion
Fred Foldvary: Do You Understand "Constitution"?
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