The Value of Choice

Abortion itself is a difficult subject. Parental notification for minors seeking abortions can add another layer of difficulty, even for the most strident pro-choice advocates. In a perfect world, teens wrestling with an unwanted pregnancy would be able to discuss the situation with their parents, who would have their child’s best interests (whatever decision that means) at heart. But, of course, we don’t live in a perfect world, and so we need to deal with the messiness that accompanies imperfection.

Unfortunately, the new legislation which is to be taken up today in the House of Representatives, the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, which would impose new restrictions on minors’ access to abortion including requiring doctors to notify a minor’s parent before performing and abortion and making it a federal offense to transport a minor across state lines for an abortion to circumvent parental notification laws, doesn’t do very well in taking reality into consideration. Parental notification could be avoided in some cases with a judicial waiver. (As a side note: the legislation is likely to pass both the House and the Senate.)
"[T]his is tough legislation to argue against on its face," says Helena Silverstein, a political scientist at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa., and author of a forthcoming book on judicial bypasses. "The appeal of parental-involvement mandates is so strong, and this legislation appears to bolster that."

What troubles Ms. Silverstein about the legislation is that it rests on the presumption that the judicial-bypass process works.

"The world is not anywhere close to ideal," she says. "There are instances where minors try to secure the right to a judicial bypass and fail. Some judges are not willing to grant a bypass, some refuse to preside. Sometimes court personnel are not aware there's a process and will turn a young woman away."

In all, 32 states require some form of parental involvement in a minor's abortion, with most defining "minor" as someone under age 18. (In a few states, 17 is the age.) Abortion-clinic operators have noted that since the advent of parental-involvement laws in the late 1980s, minors are often having abortions later in pregnancy than they used to, though statistics are difficult to come by. For some teens, the delays have pushed them beyond 14 weeks of pregnancy, the point at which some states require a hospital abortion and other restrictions.
Judges who are unwilling to grant waivers, or in some cases get involved at all, and minors who are having abortions later than they might otherwise as a direct result of parental notification—that’s the messiness of imperfection.

Lawmaking on this issue should wait until legislation can be proposed which effectively (and compassionately) addresses the abovementioned realities, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen. Instead, this legislation will create further pain, anxiety, and hardship for minors already in a dreadful situation—girls who are elsewhere concurrently being defined as woman when it’s convenient, though being treated as children without rights over their own bodies for this legislation. The inconsistency is illustrative of the unifying theme of all the abortion-related legislation currently being undertaken in Congress: controlling pregnant bodies.

That reality is not always easy, or tidy, should inform a desire in our legislators to be more sensitive, but instead, they are becoming less so, to our collective detriment. When women are allowed to make their own choices, they choose wisely.

To wit, I recently read an incredibly interesting book called Freakonomics, in which an economist by the name of Steven Levitt examines an array of unconnected topics, often unearthing hidden correlations and causations using economic principles. When he set to figuring out why crime rates had fallen so dramatically in the 1990s, even though the horrific crime wave of the ’80s was almost unanimously predicted by criminologists to worsen, he discovered that
crime began falling nationwide just 18 years after the Supreme Court effectively legalized abortion. He was struck harder by the fact that in five states crime began falling three years earlier than it did everywhere else. These were exactly the five states that had legalized abortion three years before Roe v. Wade.


The bottom line? Legalized abortion was the single biggest factor in bringing the crime wave of the 1980s to a screeching halt.
(Please note, the book goes into far greater detail in support of this conclusion than do I or does the review from which I quoted. In fact, it was my dubiousness at the claim in that very review that caused me to buy the book. That I now excerpt it should assure you of my belief in Levitt’s exploration after reading it in its entirety.)

Criminals aren’t born, but created by circumstance—lack of opportunity, lack of resources, lack of stability, and a myriad of other issues. Children born into poverty, to young, single mothers, are at greater risk to become criminals than their cohorts. So, at the heart of Levitt’s revelation of the connection between legalized abortion and decreasing crime is this: women who choose abortion make the right decision. They assess, perhaps, their ability to provide, the father’s ability to provide, the child’s chance for a good life, and they make their decision accordingly. It turns out, as Levitt has discerned, those decisions may well benefit us all.

Just another reason, messy and uncomfortable as it may be, that leaving such decisions to women, even (and perhaps especially) young women, is in our collective best interest. And, most importantly, theirs.

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