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.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jim Ven
Jim Ven8 months ago


Jerome S
Jerome S8 months ago

thanks for sharing.

Susan T.
Susan T3 years ago

I would think whichever parent has legal custody. Who tells the boy he should not be impregnating a teenage girl?

Amanda M.
Amanda M4 years ago

Yet another reason why I am dead-set against parental consent laws! They are designed for no other purpose than to put yet another undue and UNNECESSARY burden on a woman who feels that an abortion is in her best interest. Teenage girls who don't tell or don't want to tell their parents that they are pregnant or want an abortion have pretty good reasons for not wanting to go to their parents-they could get kicked out for getting pregnant, their parents could be anti-choice and insist that the teen's only option is to stay pregnant No Matter What because that zygote/embryo/fetus has "rights" that trump those of the already-born teenager (just shows how anti-woman these people really are!), a family member such as their father, brother, uncle, etc. is the one who raped them, they got date-raped and their parents insist that the rape was the WOMAN'S fault and therefore she HAS to go through with the pregnancy, etc.

And parental-consent laws can backfire, as in the case of the foster teen who was denied an abortion by an anti-choice judge, or lead a teenager to opt for a back-alley or DIY abortion out of desperation, with dangerous or even fatal consequences, such as in the case of Becky Bell.

Anti-choice = ANTI-WOMAN!

Susie M.
Past Member 4 years ago

Cheryl - don't think, the likes of Peter S should need to worry , upset or anger you.
Have you had a look at his profile? I am presuming , he has only joined to write comments like the 1 he wrote here.

There can be many a reason, why someone is feeling the need to abort a fetus - what ever the reason, it generally isn't ever an easy decision and others not in that particular situation have got no right to judge.
Let's face it, it could be , that someone was raped or the fetus isn't viable for what ever reason...why should a women / female not be having the right to choose ?

And Peter S - Please do think with your heart before you comment and offend others.

Aleisha D.
Aleisha D4 years ago

thanks for posting, very concerning!

Charli S.
Charlotte S4 years ago

I've never understood how forcing a young woman to have a child she doesn't want benefits anyone? I worked with kids in the juvenile justice system and remember one who said he wished his mother had aborted him BEFORE he was born rather then doing it every day of his life. I also worked with teen moms and dads. Their lives are not easy and many said that if they had the choice to do over they would not have chosen to have the baby. Some even gave up their children at 2 or 3 years old (possibly causing psychological damage to the child and to themselves) because they just couldn't deal with it anymore. I wonder how many abused children were abused because they were not wanted?

Franck R.
Past Member 4 years ago

Thank you for sharing

Jennifer Smith
Jennifer Smith4 years ago

Okay maybe it's time we start neutering all men who are against woman's right to choose. I wonder if they'd stick their nose in someone else's bussness ended up with them loosing their balls.

Joanna M.
Joanna M4 years ago

An intriguing issue, to be sure, with many gray areas, some of which are explored here...

One thing which immediately popped into my mind when I read that Miller and his current wife chose to raise his daughter's baby is how his daughter feels about that. Does she spend a lot of time with her father and stepmother? If so, it may be rather awkward, if not outright painful, having to see the child she knows is hers and yet basically has to pretend is not. Yes, yes, I know that some of you will say that's the consequence of her decisions, and all that. But regardless, a human being is a human being, and we all have feelings. I would really be interested in knowing more about how this scenario worked out, especially as the baby grew older. The article that this one links to says it happened eight years ago now. Does the child know that her/his "sister" is actually her/his biological mother? Or will that be kept quiet? etc.