Parental consent plan is abortion setback
To shield itself from potential lawsuits, the Hawai'i Health Systems Corp. is suddenly requiring that unwed females under age 18 get parental consent if they're seeking abortions at any of the dozen state hospitals.
Now the last we heard, Hawai'i had no law requiring minors to attain parental permission to terminate a pregnancy, and so it's troubling that a hospital corporation would take it upon itself to impose a rule that could have serious social, political and medical ramifications.
HHSC shrugs off the policy as no big deal: "It's not any kind of a position for or against abortions," says its lawyer, Alice Hall. "We do abortions. We're just requiring that there be informed consent like there is for other surgery."
Well, for starters, terminating a pregnancy isn't like having your appendix removed. While the procedure is relatively safe when performed in a state-of-the-art hospital setting, the decision to have an abortion is a profoundly personal and emotional one, and is best made by the young woman concerned in consultation with her physician.
So let's take a look at the practical implications of parental involvement.
In an ideal world, parents and children could talk openly about dating and sex, and parents would play an advisory role in the event of an unwanted pregnancy. And we expect most young women would tell their parents if they were planning to have an abortion. But there also are many who would rather die than let their parents know, never mind seek parental consent.
Also, in the case of many pregnant teenagers, the family support system is lacking, and might involve drug use, alcoholism, abuse, neglect and even incest. Can we expect responsible decision-making in such a setting?
And what if the parents say "no"? Do we want to encourage a system that forces a teenager to conceive a child against her will? Worst yet, do we want young women to opt for unsafe abortions because they can't get their parents' permission?
On the Neighbor Islands, particularly, HHSC hospitals are sometimes the only facilities that perform abortions. And while women can go to abortion clinics, there are high-risk patients who require hospital facilities.
As for the legal arena, some 40 states have enacted laws requiring parental involvement in a minor's decision to have an abortion, but some have been challenged. Two years ago, for example, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that a law requiring parental notification for minors seeking abortions violated the equal-protection clause in its state constitution by imposing a burden on minors seeking abortions that is not imposed on those who carry their pregnancies to term.
These are all issues that our state Legislature should take into account if and when a parental-consent bill comes up. In the meantime, we believe HHSC's policy, even under the guise of a liability issue, has the potential to chip at a woman's right to choose, and suggest they give it up.