Clergy Statement on Teen Access and Parental Involvement
A Statement by the Planned Parenthood Clergy Advisory Board
As clergy, we know that in healthy families parents are devoted to the well-being of their children and care about every aspect of their lives. They want to know when their children are facing a decision about an unplanned pregnancy because they want to be helpful and supportive. But they also believe that their daughters' safety is more important than their desire to be informed. For this reason, we must oppose laws requiring either notification of or consent by the parents of teens who seek to end a pregnancy.
We strongly believe in, encourage, and advocate parental involvement with children from their earliest years. Indeed, the Bible commands that we instruct our children so that they will gain wisdom and understanding. However, we also strongly believe that so-called parental consent and/or notification laws will do nothing to improve communication between parents and children, and we have good reason to fear that such laws have the potential to harm young women who are already vulnerable.
We clergy, by the very nature of our role, develop longstanding relationships with the youth and families of our congregations and community groups. As providers of pastoral care, we understand the complexities of family life.
Recognizing that these are matters of faith and pastoral counsel, we affirm the value of family, the necessity for timely and compassionate health care, and the importance of communication among family members about the full range of issues a young person may face, including matters of sexuality and reproductive health. We take heart and comfort from the fact that most parents are involved in their daughters' decisions about unplanned pregnancies.
But, as pastoral counselors, we also know that not every family functions well. Alcoholism, domestic violence, and neglect are but some of the sad realities that many young people live with. In such families, a teen who becomes pregnant is unlikely to tell her parents and run the risk of their wrath. In other families, a teen may wish to spare her parents the pain she believes her unplanned pregnancy might cause them. In at least one case in a state where mandatory parental notification is the law, a teen's concern for her parents cost her life. Knowing that she could not go to a reputable provider who would be obligated to notify her parents, she became the victim of illegal abortion. Access to confidential and competent health care could have preserved her life.
Mandatory parental notification and/or consent laws can increase the risk to the health of pregnant teens. Such laws, despite their intentions to the contrary, are far more likely to encourage a teen to delay speaking with her parents and, thereby, cause her to delay seeking the medical services and emotional counseling she requires. In turn, these delays increase the risk and the cost of any procedure she may undergo.
The provision of a judicial bypass does not resolve this problem. The disclosure of personal matters to strangers — lawyers, judges, or others — can be humiliating. It is not uncommon for judges opposing abortion to arbitrarily deny such requests. Judicial bypass, even when approval is routine, creates further delays and thus poses greater risk for a teen. A pregnant teen needs immediate and confidential access to a health care provider, not a judge.
As legislators review proposals for mandatory parental involvement when a teen seeks an abortion, we urge them to consider carefully the complex circumstances of American families and to reject all such proposals. There is no moral or ethical justification for the potential harm that parental notification and consent laws pose to the vulnerable among us, whom we are obligated to defend and protect.
© 2006 Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. All rights reserved.