May 09
Lorraine Berry lives in the Fingerlakes region of New York, although it's her transplanted home. On weekends, she can be heard throughout the area, cheering on her beloved Manchester City F.C. When not writing at Does This Make Sense? or Talking Writing, she can be found hiking with her two dogs, hanging out with her two daughters, eating what her beloved Rob has cooked for her, or teaching creative writing at a small college in the area.


JANUARY 23, 2009 8:43AM

Talking About Our Daughters... And Us Now with update

Rate: 31 Flag


  ff_abortion_states with parental involvement laws

Yesterday was the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. I come, not to bury the decision, but to praise it.

I also come to mourn for the young women, those under the age of 18, who for whatever reason—fear, for example—cannot tell their parents that they need an abortion and thus suffer unreasonably.

Parental consent laws are a hot-button issue. Many, many on the left support abortion rights, and yet, when it comes to the fate of those under the age of 18, there seems to be a "NMD" (not my daughter) attitude that consumes them. They argue, and I know because I've argued against them, that no person under the age of 18 should be allowed to make their own medical decisions.

This is not the first time I have written on the topic, and each time, I take my lumps.

 I want to talk about parental consent laws, and why I have a problem with them. I'm not condemning anyone for feeling different than I do; I already know that there are people here, people I respect, who believe that parental consent laws are a good idea. So, I want to offer this in the spirit of discussion, and not in the spirit of rancor.

Communicating with your children about the intimate act of sex is not easy. Communicating with a teenager about anything is not easy. I'm not a perfect mom. I fuck up on a regular basis, and I've learned to say "I'm sorry" to my children for particularly egregious fuckups because it's important to me that they know that I'm aware of my limitations. Which I think gives them room to know about their limitations.

My children talk to me. Because I believe in their right to privacy, I cannot tell you the things they have brought to me as issues, but needless to say, I've dealt with things that are relevant to this discussion.

I know that being a parent is terrifying. I make the assumption that parents love their children and want what's best for them, while I also acknowledge that such is not always the case.

New York is not a parental consent state. I'm glad of that. Even as I hope that if either of my children were faced with the kind of decision that abortion is, they would talk to me about what they want and need to do.

These days, when I take my eldest to the doctor's office, she goes in alone. She has private conversations with the doctor, and unless she gives the doctor permission, I learn nothing about what happened within those walls. I'm okay with that, because it's crucial to me that my daughter understand that what she says to her doctor is private, confidential, sacrosanct. That's the way it's supposed to be.

As it turns out, she usually chooses to tell me what's going on. I take her to the doctor already knowing what the issue is. But I don't pretend that there may not be things I don't know about.

The other thing that has helped tremendously in the raising of my daughters has been the notion of a "pod." My daughters are surrounded by other people who love them. There have been instances where my eldest daughter has confided something to a friend's mom, or to one of my friends, sometimes with the instruction that said confidante should approach me with the issue my daughter suddenly feels shy about discussing. And sometimes, she just talks to another adult female because that's what she wants and needs.

 I'm okay with that. I wish that other people were okay with that. i wish that adults could allow their teenagers to grow and develop into young adults, instead of treating them as extensions of themselves to be disciplined, broken, bent to a higher will.

Parental notification laws, to me, are a blaring neon sign that proclaims that people are afraid to trust their children. And I don't have naive beliefs that teenagers don't fuck up on a regular basis. But that is part of their humanness. And if I am going to maintain my commitment to the humanity of others, I have to extend that to my children. My children are not me. I gave birth to them, and I am here to love and nurture and protect them, but I do not own them. The line between "doing something to protect teens" and "declaring your ownership of teens' is thin, but I cling to that line, and trust that it will hold.

Any discussion of raising one's children will tend to take us into tender territory. My hope is that if we are going to discuss this issue, we can be gentle with one another.

For our daughters' sake.



This afternoon, President Obama signed an executive order that killed the Gag Rule. For too long, we have sentenced women overseas to death for our unwillingness to admit that sometimes, abortion is necessary. I feel such a sense of relief at this moment. Finally, finally, we're backing off on the idea that we know best. 

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Excellent. Oh, and a big Congrats on the Lexus award.
Just call me Big fan.
Another very good subject. I have three kids, two daughters and a son. I have did my best on the subject of birth control and abortion, and I strongly believe any woman should have the option to do anything she wishes. It is her body, after all, underage or not.
I have met soon who agrued on the other side.
This is so appropiate. The outlook was definitely refreshing.

I speak as a 24 year old i.e. a not-so-long-ago teen. Though I have always been very close to my mother, there have been times when I have felt that the advice she had to give would not be the best, and have turned to friends instead.

My point is that I believe to a certain degree upto a certain age, parents should be required to have a say since even teens who are close to their parents and family sometimes prefer to do their own/the in thing, which may not be for the best.
Excellent and increditible piece.
You are right when you say "Parents not trusting the children". I was never a perfect mom and fucked up alot. But my girls knowing that I had no problem telling them my limits and they knew their own limits. We still have a very close bond between the three of us and we tell each other everything "No Secrets" was motto and it worked because they didn't keep secrets from me, yes sometimes I found out later on but they still told.
Their friends didn't have this kind of trust relationship with their parents so I was the Second Mom to all of them. I talked to many about this subject and helped many out of bad situations.
Trusting and talking to your teens tell them a lot about you, and it helps them to even trust themselves to make good decisions in their lives.
I do not say this to brag on myself, but I am the kind of mother I wish I had had. I am completely open with my daughter and while I am aware, like any modern mom, that she does not tell me ALL, she does confide in me, can talk to me, can tell me what is on her mind, and we have had countless discussions about sex, love, relationships, and all the issues surrounding them. She knows she can ask me any question and I will answer it. And I believe that were she to find herself in a difficult situtation I am the one she would come to. I told her, quite seriously, that were McCain to become president and the abortion laws to change, we would leave the country if we had to. So she knows where I stand. I am sad for the girls of the world who feel alone and whose parents would rather bury their heads in the sand than teach their girls how to be strong women and give them the realities of life today. Great post. Rated.
Lovely post. Just lovely and I second your assessment.
Thank you for all the kudos. Yes, parenting is hard work, but it sounds as if a lot of us have worked to establish the kinds of relationships with our children that allows them to trust us, and we trust them. That's magic.
I'm a proud member of what you call--quite accurately--a pod. Never having been blessed with kids---something that is harder on some days than on others--that pod--and the shining 15 year old in the middle of it---mean everything to me.

So one thing I know for certain is that love---for who is at the center of the pod---doesn't need the government help of parental notification laws.

Great piece.Want proof? You drew in somebody who doesn't even have a kid!
Nicely presented on an always provocative topic. I come down on the side of parental notification. I am the father of a 22 year-old daughter and a 17 year-old son. As a high school principal I have had the privilege of being involved in many fairly intimate family situations, including issues involving teen pregnancies. My experience is that regardless of how tense a situation appeared, it was better in the long run when parents were involved. This wasn't always easy - and yes, there were exceptions. Some parents create more heartache and pain than is reasonable.
Abortion is an emotionally laden health issue on one level. Health issues are a legitimate concern of any parent for lots of reasons, and the age of consent has to be somewhere (in this case 18). So I support parental notification. for me the issue is often not the law, but how the law is applied. There are caring ways to deal with children and parents in these situations, just as there are insensitive and hostile ways to deal with this.
Thanks for raising the question on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
I spent a summer working at Legal Aid. Because it receives federal money, it had some goofy strings attached to the types of cases it can take, which generally reflected a pretty obvious agenda. Attorneys there could not handle cases involving abortions. which I initially found baffling. It was months before I figured out that the only local application for this ban was to get around parental notification exceptions.

In Texas, at least, a girl can go to court and persuade a judge she's mature enough and has a really good reason for not telling her parents she needs an abortion. Because of the Legal Aid limitation, she probably also gets to do that without the help of an attorney.
I am for legal notification, (not consent), but when it came down to a vote in my state, I voted against it because the law did not protect incest victims or those in situations of abuse - one ought to be able to seek medical immunity/sanctuary. I think that if a parent is notified, the child should have representation that defends and protects them. If something goes wrong, the parent is the one who bears the responsibility. At what age is should a child be able to make their own choices? 10? 12? 14? These ages are too young in my opinion, especially since we do not provide child advocates in these situations.

If I had gotten pregnant before the age of 18, my mother would have insisted I have an abortion. My cousin was told that if she got pregnant while under her parents roof, it was her responsibility - her parents wanted nothing to do with raising a baby. She did get pregnant (while faithfully taking birth control) and ended up adopting her baby out - it was her only choice because she wasn't comfortable with abortion. I have known people who have been abused by the doctors/nurses who pass judgment on them for having an abortion.
As the male parent of a 10 year old boy, I'm not nearly in the same front line position as you are on this issue.

At what age would you allow abortion without parent consent? At any age?

I see it your way. (I'm not a mom and never had to have an abortion, FWIW - full disclosure.) I think that as much as parents feel their kids "can tell them anything" -- even in the most open of families, that's not always true. Most parents I know, even though they do have very good open relationships with their teens, feel as you do, that there need to be options. (They also endorse the "pod" concept, which is an old and valuable one!) After all, a kid can still notify their parents themselves - it doesn't prevent that. It's funny that these parents have no faith their kids will do that, and so want the law to compel it. That should tell them something....but clearly it doesn't!
I am 100% with you. I have a lot of first hand experience with this subject. (It's not whoring if it's explanatory and ancient, is it?)

Working an intake counselor at a women's clinic in Mississippi (parental consent laws were the MINOR restrictions), I saw so many girls who were obviously in much greater pain because of the law.

The argument is ALWAYS that the parents should know what is going on so that they can be supportive. That, I am here to tell you without a doubt is BULL. A girl who is forced to tell her parents has her stress, shame, doubt, pain and guilt compounded exponentially.

I have two daughters. For me, I would want my daughter to tell me because she wanted my help and support. If she doesn't feel like she can tell me, that is my fault. Anyone who wants their daughter to be open about this subject needs to raise them that way, not expect the state to force her to tell you.

I also saw a great deal of problems with girls who were pregnant because of incest and/or molestation. This law puts those girls in grave and fatal danger. Sure, it could force a resolution, but it could also get her beaten to death.

Reality is swift when you see the face of the girl who was in your office that afternoon dead on the evening news. That happened to me TWICE.

(thumbified for a great conversation about an important topic)
As a mother, I pray my girl would feel able to tell me if she needed an abortion. As a former teenager, having to tell my mother would have been terrible - but she would have helped me. At the end of the day, I am against these laws because they have the potential to do great harm.
I am absolutely grateful for the civility with which we are discussing this issue. Believe me, I've brought it up other places and been denounced as a bad mother. But that was another place and another time.

In a perfect world, yes, daughters would involve their parents in such an important decision. But as Jodi points out, we don't live in a perfect world. I teach creative non-fiction, and my students have dealt with shit that would turn your hair gray. No way I could see them being able to talk to their abuser about the abortion. And yes, it's good that the judicial aspect is there so a girl can approach a judge, but even I would be afraid to approach a judge. I tend to put off pleading parking tickets, because I don't want to have to deal with authority like that. (I know. I'm a wimp.)
I do think that the "pod" is a wonderful way to raise our children. As long as my children are being loved and cared for, it doesn't bother me that perhaps they're speaking to another adult about things that are troublesome. I loved my parents dearly, but there was just stuff that I could not talk about--and I was told that I shouldn't talk to them about it "because they didn't want to know." They weren't monsters, they just were uncomfortable.
I don't know what the age of consent should be for making your own medical decisions. In our community, once you hit 12, you see the doctor without a parent in the room. I'm fine with that. 12 is an awkward age, and you don't need mom in there talking to the doctor about your menstrual issues.
I wish that every child felt safe talking to their parents. I do. But I agree with so many of you who see these parental notification laws as forcing children to talk to the parents because on a fundamental level, parents are not trusting their children and they feel a need to legislate getting their kids to talk to them. That's sad.
Again, everyone on this thread has voiced legitimate, well thought out responses, and I'm gratified.
If only we could figure out a way to make being an adolescent/teenager less of the hellacious thing that for many of us it was.
I think the big question we have to ask ourselves about the ability to go to a judge instead of the parents is this: When and HOW will a 16 year old girl from the inner city do that? How will she get there, how will she find the right judge or even the right room in the courthouse? What does she do, just walk into the courthouse and say, "Can you show me to the abortion judge?"

Furthermore, how does a girl, ANY girl in ANY circumstance do this without missing school or her parents finding out? The judicial option is designed to help girls who are in abusive situations. But, how many abusers are also in control of the girl's time and transportation?

Sure, some abortion clinics are open on Saturday, but most states which have the parental consent law also have at least a 24 hour waiting period. Maybe an abused girl could escape detection once, but twice is pushing the envelope.

As the grown ups make these rules, we must consider the reality, where the rubber meets the road. This boils down to REAL young women in real situations. All of them could be in danger of bad decisions, unsafe procedures, hidden pregnancies or abuse at the hands of their partners.

Some people think this is some sort of justice for moral ineptitude. I think that the death penalty is a little steep for one night of teenage irresponsibility. I think this is why they find babies in dumpsters.
As the mother of a 17-year-old daughter, I would hope that she and I have the rapport to be able to talk about matters like pregnancy, abortion, birth control, etc. And we do. However, since I've raised a thinking person, I would also want her to have the right to make decisions about her body and her life.

The thought of a government entity being able to tell her, or anyone, that she is to be forced into a life sentence by having to carry a pregnancy to term and then to take care of it is barbaric. No decision is easy when it comes to pregnancy. The decision to have an abortion is not easy, but MUST remain between a woman and her doctor. And if a teen has made the decision to become sexually active (I'm leaving out cases of rape and incest here because abortion in those situations should without question be readily available.) she is old enough to make the decision to have an abortion.

I have also had this kind of discussion with my two 20-something sons.
I have no children so I really shouldn't pipe in. I really haven't given the subject that much thought. I'm all for a woman's right to choose. I also don't think the parents should have the lst say on hanging the life of a baby on someone who is no more than a child herself. I wonder if it's feasible to have parental notification, but the decision to be made by the teenager? I really don't know.
Thank you for having the courage to open this subject. I too am impressed with the respectful and healthy discussion that has resulted. I agree with you.
I agree. Wholeheartedly.

What I'd add, too, is that parental consent laws ignore the fact that the parent-child relationship can be one of danger as well as support - and laws based on the presumption that everyone can or should have an ideal relationship with their parents - serve no one well. Parental consent laws put teens who are already at risk further at risk...for no appreciable benefit to society.
You know, a wise woman once said to me that I did not need to be a perfect mother. I just needed to be a "good enough" mother. I am struck by the parents' testimonials in this thread. It sounds as if we're all doing good enough.
It never occurred to me that parental consent laws were anything other than one more way to make abortion less accessible to the most vulnerable people who probably needed access the most.
I rejoice!
This was my favorite on his list of 300 presidential directives. Shame on bush who has allowed women to die for his "christian values".
Sweet, sweet sanity. There are good stories every day.
I don't believe in parent consent for my own reasons. I came from a religious family. One day, my friend gave me all her lingerie because she had broken up with her boyfriend, and could not bear to look at it. (
We were 16, ok?) Well, my dad found it, and he took me into a room and he told me that if he ever found out I was having sex or got pregnant, he would cut me off. I could kiss my college education good-bye and I would be booted out of the house.

I had already had sex by that point, and that scared the hell out of me. If I had gotten knocked up at that age, I probably would have found any means to get rid of it (it as in pregnancy) so I didn't get kicked out of my house and "cut off."
Thank you, Ocean. Sometimes, we need to hear the reality of the situation. Thanks.
Powerful subject matter and I'm so glad you wrote this.

Back in the bad old days, when abortion was highly illegal, I worked with a group of people -- I won't say organization -- who made it possible for women, including young women, to get abortions. Someone who didn't know where to go would get the name, telephone number and address of a reliable practitioner who would have already been told what she or he needed to know. Someone who didn't have the money would get a money order and maybe a bus ticket. Of course, we first tried to talk the women out of it because our resources were limited and were primarily for the desperate.

One very common cause of desperation was the conviction of many of these women, especially the young ones, that they would be physically harmed or even murdered by their parents (or some close relative) if it became known that they had become pregnant. One of them had been pretty severely beaten by her father because he suspected that she might have had sex. She was convinced that if he found out she was pregnant he would literally kill her. I knew the family to some extent and I don't think her fears were far-fetched.

So, anyway, what the fans of parental notification are saying is, let's have the state force these women into physical jeopardy. Let's get some of them killed. That's what it comes down to. Or at least, that's what it comes down to in my experience.
i've hesitated talking about the girls I knew whose parents would have done them physical harm should they find out their daughters were pregnant. I didn't want to overdramatize it, but this is what we are talking about. There are parents out there who believe their children are their property, and if that property misbehaves, they believe that sparing the rod will spoil the child. I know too many children who have suffered. I used to believe that you must love the child that comes from your body, but life experience has shown me that far too many children come into this world being unloved and unwanted. If a 16-year old finds herself pregnant, she has the goddamned right to decide what to do with her body. It's her body. Her choice. And I swear, I'll fight to the death to support her right to do what she needs to do.
I need to go calm down now.
I agree with you on both points...

the insidiousness of parental consent laws, and

the importance of children having additional adults in their lives.
Well, I'm with you on this one! Great post!
You did a fabulous job of presenting this controversial topic. I think that it's always helpful to remember that people in desperate situations will act in desperate ways. What they truly need are safe solutions, not more roadblocks or unsafe options. While I hope that my daughter, if I had one, would choose to come to me about an unplanned pregnancy, I believe that she deserves the right to make her own decision. If that decision were to be an abortion, I would hope that it would be safe and legal to obtain one.
To me, it's clear and simple: Her body, her choice. I find the idea that a girl might be forced against her wishes in either direction to be plainly horrifying.