Columns 2009

If they can refuse consent, can they also force it?

In Barrow, the prosecuting attorney is thrilled to get a conviction against a man who raped a woman when both had been drinking together. According to this prosecutor, many in Barrow apparently feel the state should not even pursue that as a crime. The prosecutor adds that it’s also hard to sit women on these juries because so many women are victims of sexual abuse themselves. 

In the state legislature, the debate over parental consent for abortion for girls under 18 once again wends its tortured way through both houses of government.  Proponents of this bill have not produced any credible evidence showing this is actually a major or even minor problem here. Nor do they have evidence that girls who seek abortions without parental consent don’t have troubled families from which no parental support could possibly emanate.

The proposed law gives the minor the option of telling a judge why she doesn’t want to include her parents in the decision. That should work. Take a (probably) scared kid who potentially comes from a dysfunctional and possibly abusive family in which authority figures are frightening people and put her in front of the ultimate authority figure, a judge.

The connection between the statements made by the prosecutor in Barrow and the law being debated in the Alaska legislature is simple.  Most girls who have any decent relationship with their family will already have gone to their parents about being pregnant, no matter how hard that is or how scared they are. Unfortunately, as the prosecutor pointed out in Barrow, many Alaskan women are victims of sexual abuse. They come from dysfunctional families and raise their children in dysfunctional homes. They can’t stand up for their daughters anymore than they stood up for themselves.

For way too many girls in our state, a state that consistently leads the nation in physical and sexual abuse statistics, home is where the horror is. Home is where the abuse is. Home may even be where the daddy of the baby is. And now the state wants a law saying the minor has to go to that home to get her parents’ approval for an abortion; or go in front of a judge and explain that since Uncle Jim or daddy may have fathered the child, she’d prefer her parents not know.

The flip side of this coin, the side never discussed when the issue of parental consent arises, is whether a parent who can withhold consent for an abortion has, in effect, the authority to require their underage daughter to abort a baby even if she doesn’t want to. Do they have full or half authority over their daughter’s reproductive rights? And how fast would Christian conservatives come zooming in declaring that parents have no right to make THAT decision for a child, no matter how young she is?

But if you’re going to use the Tylenol argument (that an underage child can’t be given one without parental consent), then you have to logically follow through and allow that those parents also have the right to consent to an appendectomy OR an abortion if that’s what they think is medically best for their child, no matter what the child says.

The issue of abortion is complicated and painful. But ultimately, it is one of the most private decisions any woman or girl will ever make. She should be allowed to make it in privacy without judges or legislators getting in her face.

Reality tells us that Ozzie and Harriet only ever lived on TV as the ideal American family. In real life, families are messy; physical and emotional abuse are integral parts of way too many Alaska homes; sexual abuse in our state is rampant; and too many girls have families that make the Pilgrims look downright homey.

If the legislature and governor are looking for problems to solve, I’d suggest they start solving the real ones that make nightmares out of family life for more kids in Alaska than anywhere else in this country. Until they’ve solved those problems, or until they produce some scientifically defensible research showing the issue of underage abortions is a major problem in this state, they should stay out of our wombs.