Parental Involvement Laws

In their efforts to make abortion inaccessible to as many women as possible, anti-choice forces have focused on burdening minors' access to abortion.

Legislatures in over 40 states have passed laws mandating parental consent or parental notification before a minor can obtain an abortion.

Although the vast majority of young women-particularly younger teens-involve a parent or other adult in the decision to have an abortion, some young women who are in abusive or other difficult family situations do not feel that they can turn to their parents.

Supporters of mandatory parental involvement laws assert that such measures will protect the health and promote the best interests of young women - and improve family communication. But no law can mandate good family communication. In reality, these laws threaten the health and safety of young women in numerous ways:

  • Delay: Forced parental involvement laws can delay young women's access to abortion, which can result in their obtaining a second, rather than first, trimester abortion. Although abortion is a very safe medical procedure, the risks and costs of the procedure increase significantly with gestational age.
  • Physical and emotional abuse: Some young women do not voluntarily involve their parents in an abortion decision because they fear abuse. Some of those teens have already experienced abuse and teens who strongly oppose informing their parents tend to accurately predict their parents' reactions.
  • Forced motherhood: Some young women fear that if their parents learn about the pregnancy, their parents will take actions to prevent an abortion and force them to carry the pregnancy to term.
  • Unsafe or illegal abortions: Teens in desperate situations may do desperate things. In order to avoid the requirements of forced parental involvement laws, some young women will attempt to self-abort, seek dangerous illegal procedures, or harm themselves.
  • Interference with access to confidential medical care: Forced parental involvement laws will lead some young women to believe that they cannot receive any confidential reproductive care , thereby decreasing the likelihood that they seek care for contraception and sexually transmitted infections.

Because of these harms, major professional organizations concerned with adolescent health, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, and the American Medical Women's Association, oppose parental involvement laws.

Although the United States Supreme Court has recognized a woman's constitutional right to choose whether to continue a pregnancy, that right has been severely curtailed with respect to adolescents. The Court has held that the federal constitution permits states to require a minor to provide notice to, or obtain consent from, a parent before obtaining an abortion so long as the state also provides an alternative means by which a minor can seek authorization. This alternative usually takes the form of a "judicial bypass procedure," a court proceeding in which the minor asks the court's permission to obtain an abortion if she shows either that she is mature enough to make the decision herself, or that the abortion would be in her best interests. Although judicial bypass procedures allow some minors to avoid parental notification or consent, the process can delay the abortion and is often intimidating and difficult for minors.

In a number of states, the state constitution provides greater protection for minors' pregnancy decisions than does the federal constitution. Some state courts have invalidated forced parental involvement laws that likely would have been upheld under the federal constitution. Learn more about the use of state constitutions to protect reproductive rights >

Protecting the reproductive rights of adolescents has always been a top priority for the Center. In addition to advocating against the passage of forced parental involvement laws, the Center has brought lawsuits that have invalidated such laws in Florida and Alaska. For more information about our recent litigation, please read about Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, et al. v. State of Alaska.