October 12, 2006
Recent polling suggests that among likely voters in the Nov. 7 general election, a ballot measure that would require doctors to notify parents 48 hours before performing abortions on girls ages 15 through 17 may win enough support to pass. That's undoubtedly because it's hard to find anyone - including this newspaper - who wants any teenage girl to have to undergo the emotional trauma of an unplanned pregnancy without the support of loving, understanding parents.
Unfortunately, the only thing passage of Measure 43 can guarantee is that it would force Oregon medical professionals to change the responsible and appropriate way they currently care for adolescent girls who want to terminate their pregnancies. No law can create parental love and understanding where it doesn't exist or protect a pregnant teenager from the anger and judgment of unsupportive parents. Oregonians should look past the naive appeal of this proposal and reject Measure 43.
A look beneath the surface of Measure 43 reveals a number of troubling possibilities. The worst is that in some cases it would increase the health risks to pregnant teenagers.
That's why similar parental notification laws have been consistently opposed by the very professionals parents entrust with the medical care of the targeted teenage girls. In Oregon that includes the Oregon Medical Association, the Oregon Nurses Association and the Oregon affiliate of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
These health care professionals are first and foremost concerned with the physical and emotional well-being of their patients. Current Oregon law allows doctors to talk with a teenage patient's parents without the teenager's consent "whenever the disclosure is clinically appropriate and will serve the best interests of the minor's treatment." Involving parents is often in the best interests of teenage patients. But not always.
Among teenagers who fear their pregnancies will prompt judgment or anger from their parents, a mandatory parental notification law is likely to cause crucial delays in seeking any kind of help. Depending on the progress of the pregnancy, delaying an abortion by only a few days can increase the possibility of medical complications arising. Clinic and hospital abortions before the third trimester are far safer than childbirth, especially for teens.
Measure 43's supporters have a compelling sound bite that they regularly repeat: If a teenage girl needs parental permission to get her ears pierced, parents ought to be informed if she intends to have an invasive surgical procedure. The truth is that parental permission is only required if a teenager is having her ears pierced in a non-medical establishment by someone other than a health care professional.
Oregon law allows minors 15 and older to consent without a parent's permission to most medical procedures, including surgery, hospitalization, dental care and HIV testing and treatment. Abortion isn't some special exception to parental notification requirements, it's simply no different from all the other procedures that don't require notification.
Measure 43 is, particularly in Oregon, a solution in search of a problem. The state's teen pregnancy and abortion rates have dropped significantly since the 1980s. Pregnancy counseling centers typically see parents accompanying well over 50 percent of the teenagers seeking information.
At most, Measure 43 would affect a small number of teenage girls - a couple hundred, give or take. But its impact on a few of those girls could make a bad situation much worse. Leave decisions about parental notification in the hands of Oregon's health care professionals, where they have been capably handled for decades. Vote no on Measure 43.