Abortion bill would lower age of consent

BOSTON -- Massachusetts lawmakers have introduced a bill that would lower the age of consent for an abortion from 18 to 16. Pro-Life advocates say the bill, currently before the Joint Committee on Public Health, would harm minor girls and limit parental rights.

NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, a supporter of the bill, contends that mandated parental consent does more harm than good.

In addition to lowering the age for consent to abortion, HB 629, An Act Relative to Consent and Counseling, would also expand the number of adults who could give consent for a minor girl. Family members at least 25 years old, physicians and counselors would be added.

Currently, a minor who does not want or is unable to obtain parental consent can receive a judicial bypass. The judge can authorize an abortion if the judge determines that the pregnant woman is mature enough to give consent or if the judge finds that the abortion "would be in her best interests."

The commonwealth is one of 22 states that require parental consent in order for a minor to obtain an abortion. Parental notification is required in 11 additional states, and 2 more mandate both consent and notification.

At a statehouse hearing on May 10, little time was given to H629. Kathryn M. Davis, public policy coordinator for the Massachusetts Catholic Conference (MCC), said that she came, eager to share the conference's concerns but did not have the opportunity to testify. The MCC is the public policy arm for the four bishops of the commonwealth.

"We are hoping that it just stays and dies in committee," she said of the bill, adding that it takes away protections for minor girls and their parents.

In written testimony submitted at the hearing, Davis said, "Parents have an irreplaceable role in the development and well-being of their children. The role of a parent should not be subverted by authorizing other adults in non-judicial settings, who may have ties to the abortion industry or who may have limited knowledge of the minor or her family situation, to facilitate a minor's access to an abortion without parental knowledge. The bill's passage would substantially weaken the protections for parents and their minor daughters under current law."

In their written testimony, the Massachusetts Family Institute called the bill "radical and irresponsible."

"Children under 18 need parental consent to get a tattoo or body piercing. Parents of children under 18 must give consent for disbursement of aspirin in schools, and parents are responsible for paying the medical bills incurred with any complications following an abortion," MFI said.

"Most teenage girls are not prepared for the physical, emotional and psychological aftermath of abortion," the institute added. "Parental involvement decreases the risk of medical complications connected with an abortion by allowing parents to provide important medical information and history their daughter may not know or provide."

In addition, MFI said that expanding the number of adults who can give consent for a minor would continue cycles of abuse.

"Far too often the person abusing a young girl is a family member. Allowing that same family member to give consent for the victim to get an abortion would violate statutory rape and incest laws," the testimony states.

NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts claims that abusive family situations are the reason parental consent should not be required.

"Healthy family communication is vital, but government can't mandate it. Sadly, some young women cannot discuss their pregnancies with their parents. They may live in situations where there is physical violence or emotional abuse. Their pregnancies may be the result of incest. They may fear being kicked out of the house. Or they may not realize how supportive their parents might be," the group said in its submitted testimony.

NARAL called parental consent for minors a "burdensome mandate" that necessitates jumping through judicial hoops, resorting to illegal abortions or crossing state lines. They cited a 2009 analysis that found that three times as many minors sought abortions out-of-state after the parental consent law was adopted.

But pro-lifers, including the MCC's Davis, argue that the state's laws on abortion should be more restrictive, not less so. She also advocates for the informed consent bill, called Laura's Law.

"The state's mandatory version of the consent form merely describes abortion as a procedure where 'the contents of the womb (uterus) are removed,' fails to include any reference to the potential for physical, psychological or emotional problems after an abortion, and omits any listing of or contact information for agencies providing pregnancy assistance," she said in her testimony for the hearing.

Edith McDaniel, a Silent No More regional coordinator, said that most women who go to abortion clinics are young and are not given enough information about the procedure. Silent No More seeks to raise awareness of the devastating effects of abortion.

McDaniel, who had an abortion, said there was a stark contrast between that experience and another when she had minor surgery on her wrist. For her wrist, she met with two different doctors who both explained the procedure before she signed a consent form.

"That didn't happen when I had an abortion. It doesn't happen when people have abortions. They go in, they're given some brief information and then in they go," she said. "One of the things we here touted all the time is that abortion is a choice. How can we effectively say we are giving women a choice when we're not giving them the information to make that choice? How fair are we being in terms of women's rights to subject them to a medical procedure that can have far-reaching consequences -- medically, emotionally, psychologically?"

According to the Elliot Institute, a pro-life organization based in Illinois, teens are acutely at risk for complications during and after an abortion. They are more likely to suffer from cervical lacerations as well as life-threatening infections, which can lead to infertility. They are also five times more likely to seek help for psychological and emotional problems compared to other teens who carried a pregnancy to term. They are six times more likely than other teens to attempt suicide.

McDaniel added that the younger the woman, the less likely she is to know much about medical procedures and to understand her own body.

"When you lower the age of consent, you're talking about children at that point," she said. "They have no sense of mortality. They have that sense that they're going to live forever."