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    Tuesday, March 07, 2006

    New York Times Scoops New England Journal: The New York Times today published the results of its own research on abortion rates and parental notification laws. Their original work looked at abortion rates among teenagers in 6 states thathave passed parental notification laws before and after the laws. Their research found that the laws resulted in little impact in abortion rates among minors:

    The analysis, which looked at six states that introduced parental involvement laws in the last decade and is believed to be the first study to include data from years after 1999, found instead a scattering of divergent trends.

    For instance, in Tennessee, the abortion rate went down when a federal court suspended a parental consent requirement, then rose when the law went back into effect. In Texas, the rate fell after a notification law went into effect, but not as fast as it did in the years before the law. In Virginia, the rate barely moved when the state introduced a notification law in 1998, but fell after the requirement was changed to parental consent in 2003.

    They say they're the first to look at this data, and they got a comment from an economist whose research is devoted to the impact of consent laws:

    There are ongoing trends that are pushing both birth rates and abortion rates down significantly, and those larger trends are more important than the effect of these laws," said Ted Joyce, an economist at Baruch College in New York who has studied parental involvement laws. He found they had limited effects on small subgroups of minors but little impact over all.

    Funny, that's not what he says in this week's New England Journal. Dr. Joyce didn't mention - or couldn't without breaking a news embargo - is that he, too, has looked at trends since 1999, and the results of his work are in this week's NEJM. (The print version has already been mailed and delivered, but it won't appear online until later this week. ) His study is much narrower than that of the Times, focusing only on Texas and choosing to highlight the difference in abortion rates among 17 year olds the year before Texas passed a parental consent law and in the two years after the law was passed. The paper's conclusion is that consent laws do limit access to abortions, and especially amongst older teens, and that it resulted in more late-term abortions among 18 year olds. The authors see their data as a warning against passage of more consent laws: "Although the observational design of the study makes it impossible to confirm causality, these findings are relevant to an assessment of the likely effect of pending legislation to extend such laws."

    It looks like the Times managed to publish a more balanced and objective study. As their numbers point out, the rate of abortions were already declining fast in Texas before the notification laws took effect. And it would appear from trends in other states that there's probably something else at work here than consent laws . Perhaps it's the Roe effect. Or, perhaps parental consent laws don't make much difference because it's the parents are more eager for their kids to have abortions than the kids are:

    But providers interviewed in 10 states with parental involvement laws all said that of the minors who came into their clinics, parents were more often the ones pushing for an abortion, even against the wishes of their daughters.

    "I see far more parents trying to pressure their daughters to have one," said Jane Bovard, owner of the Red River Women's Clinic in Fargo, N.D., a state where a minor needs consent from both parents. "As a parent myself, I can understand. But I say to parents, 'You force her to have this abortion, and I can tell you that within the next six months she's going to be pregnant again.' "

    Renee Chelian, director of Northland Family Planning Centers in the Detroit area, said she had had to call the police on parents who wanted their daughters to have abortions, "because they threaten physical violence on the kids."

    This has been my experience, too. College age women are the ones who seek abortions on their own and don't tell their parents. Minors are invariably hauled in by their parents for a pregnancy test and then told they're going to get an abortion - or else. Parents today came of age after Roe v. Wade. They take it for granted that abortion's a legitimate option. Many of them feel it's the best option. After all, they know they're the ones who will ultimately be raising that baby.

    P.S. Regardless of where you fall in the abortion wars, can't we all agree that it's in the best interest of a child to have a parent's consent before undergoing an invasive medical procedure? It always seem so cavalier to argue that children can be responsible for their own medical care after an invasive procedure like that.

    UPDATE: In the comments:

    Twenty plus years ago my attorney wife was dealing with a rash of 12 and 13 year olds having children. To her surprise they did not understand even the most basic issues concerning pregnancy. She tried to bring a basic health class to this subgroup and was told she would be sued and loose her job if she persisted. The statement by a group was "she was interfering in the reproductive rights of these women."

    These are not women, they are children and we need to protect them with all of our resources.

    Precisely. Which is why the New York Times study should be embraced by both sides of the abortion debate, rather than disparaging it as partisan. The pro-abortion side can stop painting notification laws as dangerous to the health of children by denying them abortion services - clearly they aren't. And the anti-abortion side can rest easy in the knowledge that the laws will continue to be on the books. If the Times hadn't run its own statistical study, then Dr. Joyce's study would have been the one to make headlines. Instead of "Consent Laws Make No Difference," but "Consent Laws Result in More Late Term Abortions." That headline may still run, but the most important thing about parental notification laws is not their ability to stop abortion. It's the important role they play in protecting the health of children by requiring parental awareness of an invasive medical procedure.

    UPDATE II: Emily in the comments notes that the press is reporting the New England Journal research as showing that consent laws lower abortion rates. Even the New York Times is reporting this, but only via the AP.
    Emily has more at her blog.

    posted by Sydney on 3/07/2006 12:07:00 AM 4 comments


    Abortion is such a big issue with as many social issues as legal or medical. Abortion defines our treatment of children and our value of life. Some subgroups are willing to protect a person's right to choice while at the same time trying to eliminate the death for those who commit the most heinous crimes.

    In American today many gangs use having a child by a prospective female member as a right of passage. This also guarantees continued contact, enforced by the legal community, between the girl and the child's father. Gangs are now generational with 15 year cycles.

    Fortunately the teen birth rate is dropping. Kid's are getting the message that having a child at a young age carries great responsibility and limits prospects. My experience with kids today is they are more focused and often more conservative than their parents.

    Twenty plus years ago my attorney wife was dealing with a rash of 12 and 13 year olds having children. To her surprise they did not understand even the most basic issues concerning pregnancy. She tried to bring a basic health class to this subgroup and was told she would be sued and loose her job if she persisted. The statement by a group was "she was interfering in the reproductive rights of these women."

    These are not women, they are children and we need to protect them with all of our resources.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:21 AM  

    Yup. I agree.
    I worked in a rural area, with lower middle class people. Most moms just shrugged and said they'd babysit so daughter could keep the kid.
    But my proper, hardworking, status seeking middle class parents forced the kid to abort...
    And, alas, like the one abortionist noted, ten months later the girls would be back: Six months pregnant, and happy...

    By Blogger boinky, at 5:52 PM  

    Excellent post, and very persuasive.

    Parental notification is tangential to the issue, however. The abortion debate ought to be shifted toward the factor that drives it, sex.



    By Blogger Flea, at 5:28 AM  

    Now that the article is out, what the mainstream news headlines are saying is "Study: Law Lowered Abortion Rate in Texas".

    See links here.

    By Blogger Emily, at 6:43 AM  

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