Education Montana Politics

Vote NO on LR-120. It’s A Dangerous Threat to Young Women in Montana

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One of issues that has largely remained under the radar during the 2012 Montana election is LR-120, which, if passed will require parental notification before a minor (16 or younger) can receive an abortion. It’s a wrong-headed, unnecessary law that will only put the health and safety of young women at risk—and voters should reject this reactionary intrusion into the lives of young women who may not have any other choices available to them.

LR-120 is a classic example of a law that is designed to appeal to a majority as a “common sense” restriction on abortion rights, but the bill will put a small number of Montana women at risk every year without increasing parental involvement in most cases. The truth is that the majority of young girls who seek an abortion will discuss the procedure with their families, and the law will have little impact on their decision-making.

But passage of LR-120 will have profoundly dangerous consequences.  Our legal system must protect the rights of those who are most vulnerable, even if the circumstances under which they need protection are quite rare.  To support LR-120 is to ignore the plight of teenaged girls who are victims of family abuse, who are victims of incest, or who fear that the decision to have an abortion will lead to violence in the home.

It will force some young women to make incredibly unsafe choices, ranging from dangerous efforts to end their pregnancies to ending their own lives.

The truth is that parental notification laws do threaten teenagers, as a Guttmacher Institute study made clear:

The most vulnerable and scared teens are put at greatest risk.  Forcing teenagers to disclose to their parents that they are pregnant or seeking an abortion may place some teens at risk of physical violence or abuse.  According to a 1992 study, about one-third of teenagers who did not tell their parents about their decision to seek an abortion had experienced violence in their family, or feared that violence would occur or that they would be forced to leave home.

The American Medical Association agrees that teenagers should make the decision:

Physicians should not feel or be compelled to require minors to involve their parents before deciding whether to undergo an abortion.  .  .  .  [Minors should ultimately be allowed to decide whether parental involvement is appropriate.”

Doctors know that minors must be empowered to make these choices.

Advocates of LR-120 argue that teenagers in abusive homes will be protected because the law provides an exemption for youth courts to authorize abortions.  That exception ignores the reality faced by teenaged girls in these circumstances.  A girl being victimized by a family member will no sooner turn to the court system or a youth advocate than she would turn to the family members that are committing or permitting the abuse. To pretend that fifteen year old girls in these circumstances will feel empowered to seek help in the legal system is to ignore the very vulnerability that this law will create.

It also ignores the dynamics of most communities in Montana. We all know that no matter how confidential the proceeding, there are no secrets in small towns. Women who fear violence and abuse in their homes are unlikely to risk seeking legal remedies that could easily be exposed to their abusers.

And there is no guarantee that judges will put aside their personal beliefs when it comes to granting minors the right to seek abortions.

Vote no on LR-120 and be sure to let your friends know that this is no “moderate” restriction of abortion rights. It represents a real threat to young women who most need our protection.

About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba is a eighteen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it’s a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

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  • I have to admit, this is the one issue vote I wasn’t really sure of when I first looked at it. I knew in theory I supported Planned Parenthood, but it did seem initially like common sense. But when I think about my students and the family dynamics I know many of them experience, and the ‘effectiveness’ of the court system in protecting them, I see why parental notification would be a big problem for them if they faced this kind of situation. I don’t think it’s an open-and-shut case – allowing a fifteen year old to request an invasive medical procedure of any kind is obviously a bad situation, but I can understand how the alternative is even worse in some circumstances.

    I know there is probably no real legal remedy for it, but I also think it’s important to remember that the problem goes the other direction as well – young women being coerced into having abortions, often from parents who thought they were pro-life until it was their daughters in that situation (and sometimes daughters who thought they are pro-choice but decide against an abortion when faced with the situation themselves). With something as deeply personal as abortion, I think the less the government, even trying to be well-meaning, tries to dictate people’s decisions, the better chance people will have of navigating these often tragic circumstances themselves.

    • I’m most certainly not trying to harsh on your forming opinion, PW, but I would suggest to you that dealing with other’s health decisions from a standpoint that they are “often tragic” is really not helpful. Some circumstances are indeed tragic. Many are not. It is the jaundiced eye of society that promotes the tragic nature of circumstances as a necessary lead up to “we must think of the children”. No. No *we* mustn’t. The myth of tragedy, and the human sympathy that leads to its avoidance, has been cause for much harm in the history of western civ.

      I agree with your conclusion. I just think it a bit hollow when it agrees with the motives of the opposition.

      • “Some circumstances are indeed tragic. Many are not.”

        In theory, I agree more with pro-life dogma on this issue. In the vast majority of cases, I think teenagers should inform their parents. It’s an invasive medical procedure. The idea that underlies pro-choice theory is ultimately that women have complete autonomy over their own bodies and their own medical procedures, even if those medical procedures are controversial. That logic is completely reversed in terms of parental consent, where abortion is viewed as a medical procedure where the rules which generally apply to medical procedures for minors are suspended for abortion precisely because it is a controversial procedure.

        I don’t personally think a most 15 year old people of either sex should be able to request any medical procedure, including abortion, without their parent’s consent. It is precisely the truly tragic circumstances, where a teenager has parents who are truly not looking out for their daughters’ best interest, that make parental consent laws a bad idea. The majority of abortions under 16 years old probably ought to be, in a perfect world, accompanied by parental consent. However, because I don’t believe that it is easy or possible to judicially differentiate between those cases and the ones for which parental consent would be disastrous.

  • We should also let them get tattoos and allow the school to give them an aspirin. A big question here is, what happens when the procedure goes wrong and the child needs immediate medical attention? Should the hospitals be authorized to treat those cases separately and not require parental notification (unless the patient dies of course)

    • Huh? In emergency situations, hospitals are authorized to take whatever action that will prolong the life of any patient, parental notification or otherwise. Isn’t it you folks on the right who keep saying we don’t need Obamacare because our emergency rooms are just the bomb?

      But mostly, your comment is nonsensical because you fail to clarify who the all powerful “WE” are who let “them” do anything. Do you care to clarify?

      • The all powerful “WE” are you and I Rob – you know, the voters that pass laws or vote for lawmakers to make laws for us.

        • That’s what i thought you meant, and therein find a great big ole problem.

          The very notion of a parental consent law relies on the idea that parents should have right of property over the medical decisions concerning their children. Fair enough. But your argument is such that that ‘right’ is granted by state authority, essentially telling professionals that they must support and concede to state authority on the issue, regardless of their educated choice or conscience. At best, you are advocating for nanny-statism. At worst, you are granting people such as myself, a non-parent, the right to dictate parent-child relationships such that they benefit the state (or at least my interests given my vote.) That honestly doesn’t sound very much like ‘Freedom’ to me.

  • Same old fight over and over and over again. It’s pathetic. Does anyone really think Dave Lewis has a clue what a young, pregnant teen is facing. No. No way.

  • Wait, you’re telling me the Guttmacher Institute, an arm of Planned Parenthood, which profits from abortions, is against a law which would make it harder for young girls to get abortions!!!

    GET OUT!!!

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