When Parents Are Divorced, Who Gets to Give Consent for a Minor’s Abortion?
Parental consent for a minor terminating a pregnancy has long been used as a way to block a teen’s access to abortion. Despite the ironic double standard where the same politicians and activists who say that a teen is too young to decide without parental input to end a pregnancy also say that the teen is sufficiently mature enough to decide on her own to stay pregnant and give birth, many states have looked at parental notification and consent bills as a logical and unobtrusive restriction to put on the procedure.
For most states, the requirements are onerous, but not completely insurmountable. A parent can be just notified versus provide permission, another trusted adult can accompany a minor, or if necessary a teen can petition a judge for an exception. Some states are more difficult, with a parent having to provide expensive notarization and have legal identification, or only certain judges can be used, leading to cases like the one in Nebraska where a teen in foster care was turned down because the judge was anti-choice.
Very few states, however, require both parents to agree to the abortion. Kansas, Mississippi and North Dakota require both parents to consent, while Minnesota requires both to be notified. It’s at that point where it becomes clear that what allegedly is proposed as a means of protecting young girls is inherently about forcing them to remain pregnant. There may also be a more sinister side to dual consent — a desire for estranged spouses to continue to exert control over the familial decisions of their exes.
That appears to be the underlying motivation of Missouri Rep. Rocky Miller. Miller, a Republican, tells Lake Expo News that he proposed the bill because of his own personal story. According to Miller, his young daughter got pregnant and was leaning towards an abortion, with his ex-wife’s approval. He instead convinced her to have the child and essentially let him raise it with his new wife. Miller expressed concern that his ex could have given permission and his daughter could have ended the pregnancy without his say so, and feels the new bill would provide more fathers leverage to refuse to let their daughters get an abortion without their approval.
“[This bill] does not restrict anything,” he told the paper. “It just makes sure the right people are informed of the welfare of their children.”
The “right” people, in this case, is any custodial parent, a relationship that is becoming far more common these days as family courts try to make parenting rights more equitable. A custodial parent may even have legal rights granted when the child may not be spending a majority of their time in that parent’s home. For children who have parents with acrimonious relationships, an emotionally charged issue such as an abortion could be a veritable powder keg. It can especially exacerbate the issues of power and control between parents that in a number of situations led that couple to end their marriage in the first place.
This isn’t the first time Missouri has sought to use expanded consent as a means to allow expanded control over vetoing an abortion decision. In 2013, Rep. Keith English considered a bill to require married women to provide permission from their husbands before terminating a pregnancy. He chose not to pursue the bill, however, because “any woman could bring any man to sign in and say he was the father.”
In an ideal world, a teen wouldn’t unintentionally get pregnant. In a slightly less than ideal world, she would be allowed to decide, based on her own needs and desires, whether or not to continue a pregnancy with no one else’s permission. Obviously, with legal abortion harder to obtain, we don’t live in that world right now. But if a girl is comfortable enough to speak to a parent and say she wants an abortion, and that parent agrees to consent, they should not be overruled by another parent or guardian. Hopefully, the Missouri’s legislature will realize that and refuse to pass Miller’s bill.
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