Monday, January 29, 2001
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Posted on: Monday, January 29, 2001

Abortion for minors presents a dilemma

We don’t envy the lawmakers whose job it will be to decide whether to advance two new bills aimed at restricting the access of minors to abortion.

The bills would require minors to obtain parental consent and for physicians to notify parents before an abortion.

The reasoning of the author of the bills is understandable and compelling: "We’re not outlawing abortion at all," said Sen. David Matsuura, D.2nd (S. Hilo, Puna). "It’s a parents’ rights bill. This should be a family decision."

But on closer analysis, the issue isn’t that simple.

Under ideal circumstances — circumstances we wish prevailed in every family — girls would be in constant, close consultation with their parents about every important life decision — from academics and religion, chores and curfew, to sensitive issues such as sex and abstinence, pregnancy prevention and the choices that accompany pregnancy.

In the real world, we know, that’s not always the norm. Among the extremes of violent, drug-ridden families, there are cases where it’s simply ludicrous for the government to step in with a sudden requirement for parental participation following years of abuse and neglect.

Where state-coerced parental involvement arouses fear, anger and shame instead of loving resolution, we must be concerned about driving pregnant girls underground, away not only from specific services for their condition, but also from the broad range of counseling that so many of them require, on subjects ranging from jobs and education to sexually transmitted diseases to drug and alcohol treatment.

And finally, parental notification unfortunately constitutes an abortion wedge issue — that is, some opponents of abortion have concluded that if they can’t outlaw abortion, they can at least make it harder to obtain. If, however, the practical result of requiring parental consent for abortion is to narrow rather than broaden a pregnant girl’s options, then its proponents, in allowing the end to justify the means, may in unintended ways cause arguably greater harm.

In the end, we applaud the sentiment of Matsuura’s bills but wonder, as does Barry Raff, executive director of Family Planning Centers of Hawaii: "How can you legislate family discussion?"

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