Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Forcing teens to tell their parents they want an abortion could raise the number of abortions?

Sounds a bit silly, doesn't it? If a teen already is looking to get an abortion and needs to notify her parents or receive their consent before obtaining an abortion, how would that (even if some parents were pushing for the abortion) ever increase the number of abortions?

But that's what progressive "think" tank Third Way would have you believe. In their issue brief on the demographics of abortion they boldly assert:

"In fact, at least one pro-life political tactic - parental consent - could possibly increase the prevalence of abortions. Indeed, the reason parental consent laws have failed to reduce teen abortions is that parents are often the impetus behind teen abortions, not the barrier."

While some parents may want and even encourage their teenage children to have abortions, it's a completely different thing to assert that requiring teens to inform their parents about an already wanted abortion would lead to more abortions. That reasoning might work if states passed laws which required teens to notify their parents of a pregnancy once the teen finds out but it's hardly logical for consent for abortion.

What's even more out there is that later in the issue brief they report that:

In 2001, abortions were performed on 33 out of 10,000 teens in states with strict parental consent laws.

In 2001, abortions were performed on 39 out of 10,000 teens in states with moderate parental notification laws.

In 2001, abortions were performed on 63 out of 10,000 teens in states with no consent/notification laws.

"Ha! Those stupid states with strict and moderate parental consent laws have respectively 48% and 38% fewer teens per capita who have abortions. Wait a second that doesn't help our illogical hypothesis....."

Third Way then tries to invalidate these results by stating that:

"But as a percentage of overall abortions in each of these categories of states, teen abortions are close to the same suggesting that consent and notification laws have little impact on abortion."

It suggests nothing of the sort. That's a complete ideological inference on data with nothing to back it up. For one, Third Way in all of these statistics is comparing apples and oranges. A large number of teen abortions are performed on women who are older than 18 (in Michigan it's more than half). Parental consent laws wouldn't play a factor in the abortion decision of women who are 18 or 19 and aren't affected by parental consent laws. That reality is never mentioned by the statisticians of Third Way.

Second, you can't look at statistics from a single year and infer that the laws have had little impact. The study cites that "teens represented 17.6% of all abortions in states with strict parental consent laws 17.0% of all abortions in states with moderate parental notification laws, and 19.1% of all abortions in states with no consent/notification laws." But we have no clue how the parental consent laws affected the teen abortion percentage over time. Maybe some states with parental consent laws had a situation where teens under 18 represented a much high percent of abortions before the parental consent law but that percentage has lowered since the implementation of the parental consent law. Maybe its actually the other way around. Either way, taking a statistic from one year and inferring parental consent laws have had little impact is how I would have looked at statistics when I was in middle school.

Third, there are so many other reasons why the teen percentage of abortion in states with parental consent laws would closely mirror the teen percentage of abortion in states without parental consent laws. One obvious explanation could be other prolife laws. For example, states with parental consent laws might also have a variety of other prolife laws that lower the number of abortions that adults receive (such as a ban on tax-funded abortion, informed consent, abortion clinic regulations) while states without parental consent laws would also not have the other prolife laws which affect the number of adult abortions.

To prove that parental consent laws haven't had that much impact, they would have to track a variety of individual state abortion statistics relating to parental consent. They would have to track when a parental consent law was passed, what the abortion percentage was for girls under 18 at that point, look to see if the percentage has gone up or down while monitoring a variety of other factors like teen pregnancy rates, other prolife laws, etc.

In Michigan, our parental consent law took effect in March of 1991. In 1990, the number of abortions performed on girls under 18 was 3,820 or 10.6% of all occurrences. In 2004, that number is 1,770 or 6.7% of all occurrences. Also notice how the number of pregnancies of girl who are 15-17 has gone down dramatically (by almost half) since the onset of our parental consent law.

Do these statistics by themselves prove that Michigan's parental consent law has had a huge impact on under 18 abortions? No. Maybe our parental consent legislation had nothing to do with the decrease in the number of under 18 pregnancies and under 18 abortions in Michigan. Maybe it encouraged some girls under 18 to think twice about having sex. Maybe it didn't. But providing accurate statistics over a period of time is going to help us a lot more than providing deceptive statistics for one year.

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