Thursday, July 27, 2006

Choosing Abortion Battles

It's always discouraging when a woman's right to not share her body with an unwanted intruder is whittled away and when rich men play politics with the sacred matter of motherhood. But surely we've all gotten used to this, and we had another round of it last week when the Senate passed a bill making it a crime for anyone to take a pregnant girl across state lines so she could obtain an abortion without notifying her parents.

Nobody thinks this happens very often, so this bill has more symbolic effect than real. But the hand-wringing of the Pro-Choice side makes me almost sadder than the glee of the pro-lifers.

As I understand the law, every state that has parental notification laws has exceptions for rape and incest and a judicial bypass option. So when, god forbid, a child of 13 comes to me to ask for help getting her an out-of-state abortion because she's pregnant by her father and afraid to tell him, I don't want to just get her an abortion, I want to get her in front of a judge and get the abortion (which is required to be granted) and I want that judge to also set the wheels of justice in motion to get the kid out of that unsafe home. Simply taking her across state lines to get an abortion would be another kind of child abuse.

As for the more likely scenario, the sexually active 16 year old who's scared to talk to her parents, she's also old enough to get herself across state lines without physical assistance from me, and scared though she might be, she is, after all going to face their wrath if she stays pregnant, too.

I'm also skeptical of the pro-choice assumption that if teens have to go to their parents they'll be pressured against their best interests or abused. My somewhat limited experience as a Planned Parenthood clergy counselor and a minister is that moms are often more in favor of an abortion than daughters. Young women often have woefully romantic notions about motherhood, but their mothers have good reason to be more realistic. They know the sacrifice and sacredness of motherhood, and they know that their daughters are unprepared for both. As for abuse...Young people have recourse if they are being abused by their parents and the same adults who are available to help them get abortions are available to help them if parents fly out of control over their daughter's pregnancy.

Let this one go.


Anonymous said...

I agree that in the great abortion debate, prochoicers should choose wisely where to focus their energies.

In your last paragraph, you write about mothers many times being in favor of an abortion for their daughters. I have found in working with pregnant teens in New Mexico that the vast majority of teen mothers in New Mexico are Hispanic, and there is a HUGE stigma attached to abortion in the Hispanic community. I believe that a teeneage girl might not have the support from her mother, family, and community to get an abortion if she wishes. If this is true, how do we give teenage girls in New Mexico the information they need to make an informed choice?
How do we let girls know that they do have a choice?

Turtle Mountain said...

The Rev. Robinson's original post raises an excellent caution; the comment which follows raises dillemas difficult to resolve. What is an informed choice? Neither the young woman nor her parents can look ahead and know what responsibilities will be involed in fifteen years. The difference is that it is the young woman who will have to fulfill them - not the parents.

I believe that informed sexuality is the think to direct energies to; and, I would caution against establishing a precedent that all clerics are fit counselors After all, I would not like my child counseled by a Catholic priest, or by Pat Robertson. Better that ministers have a list of trained, secular counselors they trust to whom either the girl or her parents can be referred.

Kate said...


I think you are wrong on this one. Previous to ministry I worked with troubled youth for four years during the pre-Roe v. Wade years. Almost every teenage girl in this troubled population got pregnant (we were not allowed to facilitate teens having access to birth control although we could suggest they go on their own --- not always that easy). Despite the fact that most of these girls were wards of the state, when their parents still had the legal right to make the abortion decision the parents very often opted against it. You would be amazed at how many people who abuse and neglect their own children still refuse permission to allow for an abortion and excoriate their daughters for wanting one. Youngsters who badly wanted an abortion got someone to take them to a neighboring state where parental permission was not needed. (of course, some were dutiful even to bad parents). This would now be criminalized. I had a case (less unusual than you would like to think) where the child was in a foster home because of incest and then became pregnant by a boyfriend. The pregnancy was only indirectly a result of incest, but the parents forbade the girl to have an abortion. The Governmental Social Agency for which I worked had a policy against helping such a child with
either birth control or abortion -- likely one that might be even stronger today. Such a girl's only recourse was to get help from a friend's mother. "In care" children have very complex, conflicted, and sometimes horrifying relationships with both family and the legal system so that the law on parental notification, judicial bypass, and against the facilitation of its circumvention-through-travel falls hardest on the most vulnerable youth and those least equipped to be parents. These are the kids most likely to fall victim to the worst back alley or self-induced abortions or -- more likely -- bring forth another generation of kids who are abused, neglected, and "in care". These kids have so few options and this law removes one more. Even though parental permission may not be required by these children, the notification of these kinds of parents can be a huge emotional block --- would you want to have to notify an abusive parent who might verbally abuse you or further withdraw love in some other way? It was the stronger kids who could opt for abortions --- as you have noted, the others too often romanticized motherhood and these kids often thought of a baby as someone who would love them as they had yet to be loved. But I have a hard time imagining even the spunky kids circumventing all the hurdles being placed in their way. And I think you give adults too much credit. There are many more who would be willing to drive a child across state lines secretly, than there are who would stand up to abusive families and help them go through a legal process. It is hard enough to get anonymous phone calls about child abuse. Much more rare to get people who will place themselves in conflict with nutty, abusive, possibly dangerous parents.