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Catholics call for parental notification of abortions

November 13, 2018

The state’s Catholic bishops are calling for a state law to require minors to notify their parents if they plan to have an abortion, claiming that Connecticut is one of the few states lacking such a law.

But pro-choice advocates said the laws can be damaging and prevent scared young people from seeking timely care.

“Parents rightfully want to be involved in their teenager’s lives, but good family communication can’t be mandated by the government,” said Susan Yolen, vice president of public policy and advocacy for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, in an email.

In its 11th annual “State of Abortion in Connecticut” report, the Connecticut Catholic Conference — the public policy office of the Catholic bishops in Connecticut — calls for adoption of a parental notification law.

The report states that 37 states have active laws requiring some form of parental notification, and that six other states passed such laws, but “legal challenges have made these laws inactive” in the states.

The time seems right to address the need for such a law in Connecticut, particularly since parents often need to give consent for teens to receive medical services or participate in school activities, said Michael C. Culhane, the executive director of the Connecticut Catholic Conference.

“There’s a litany of activities dealing with minors that require notification,” Culhane said. “It seems that if you are pregnant and a minor, that you lack the ability to make that kind of decision.”

Connecticut’s law requires only that minors younger than 16 be given counseling prior to receiving an abortion. Culhane said the Catholic Conference has tried in the past to at least make counseling a requirement to all minors, but that wasn’t successful. He said the State of Abortion report was sent to members of the state legislature Monday but he has not yet gotten a response.

Parental notification laws vary from state to state, with some requiring only parental notification, and others requiring parental consent. In many cases, a judge can excuse minors from the requirement.

The Catholic Conference report cites state Department of Public Health statistics showing that, in 2017, four 12-year-old girls in the state received abortions. That year, 9,584 abortions were performed in the state, the bulk of them — 7,203 — on women ages 20 through 34. Fewer than 300 women younger than 18 received abortions that year. The data show that no one younger than 12 received an abortion that year.

Some advocates said a parental notification law is potentially dangerous, and flies in the face of recommendations from a variety of medical groups.

“Vulnerable young people just need the support of medical professionals,” said Sarah Croucher, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut. “They shouldn’t have to go before a judge and defend their decision.”

Croucher said several professional medical groups — including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics — have come out against parental notification and parental consent laws.

Indeed, in 2017, the AAP published a statement titled “The Adolescent’s Right to Confidential Care When Considering Abortion,” which declares that a minor “should not be compelled or required to involve her parents in her decision to obtain an abortion, though she should be encouraged to discuss the pregnancy with her parents and/or other responsible adults.”

The statement references data showing that the laws do not “achieve the intended benefit of promoting family communication, but do increase the risk of harm to the adolescent by delaying access to appropriate medical care or increasing the rate of unwanted births.”

Yolen agreed with that assessment, and said that there is no basis to push for a parental notification law in Connecticut. She pointed out that abortions in Connecticut are declining — a point that the Catholic Conference report also makes — and that state reproductive health providers are generally responsible in their treatment of young patients.

“Further legislation in this area, while well-intentioned, is simply unnecessary and health care providers share parents’ deep concern for the safety of young people,” Yolen said. “Young people seeking confidential health care are routinely encouraged to ask for the support and guidance of family members prior to ending a pregnancy. And most patients of any age who can, do so.”

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