Thursday, February 26, 2009

What do tatoos and abortions have in common?

Last week, Delegate Sue Kullen (D, 27-B) introduced a bill to require parental consent for teenagers who want a tattoo or body piercings. Her bill quickly turned into a coded discussion of abortion rights when Delegate Gail H. Bates (R, 9-A) moved to include “invasive surgical procedures” to the legislation. Democrats argued the new amendment changed the bill, while Republicans said parental consent was fundamental to both issues. Everyone can agree teens should seek adult help for difficult choices. However, legislatures cannot create healthy communication where it does not exist. Teens who do not want to tell their parents about an unplanned pregnancy often have good reasons for not involving a parent.

Maryland already has a parental notification law that achieves both parental involvement and protectionof teens, . This requires a minor to notify a parent or guardian before having an abortion. The parent or guardian does not have to agree with the choice, but must be informed. Exceptions may be made if the minor is mature and capable of giving informed consent, the doctor thinks the minor will suffer physical or emotional abuse, notification will not help, the teen does not live with a parent or guardian, or reasonable effort to give notice has been unsuccessful. Click here for more information about parental notification.

Eighty-one percent of women seeking abortions turn to their parents for support, according to the Guttmacher Institute. While parental involvement is desirable for most teens, legally mandated involvement in the form of parental consent or notification may not be to a minor’s benefit in all cases. Mandatory parental involvement can also be a disincentive for sexually active adolescents to seek care. Confidential services that allow teens to talk candidly with health professionals is critically important. Parental consent laws can endanger teenagers who are not lucky enough to have a supportive parent to help them with an unplanned pregnancy. Fortunately, this amendment was voted down on a procedural rule with a 103-35 vote. Check out more information at The Baltimore Sun’s Maryland Politics blog.

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