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.