Teen girls express strong, but divergent opinions on new abortion law


February 20, 1991|By Randi Henderson

She was barely 18, a college student, and she was -- by he own description -- "careless, stupid and ignorant."

She also was pregnant and her first thought was, "I have to get rid of it." Her second thought: "My parents cannot know about this."

Call her Laura, said this woman, whose name is not Laura and whose parents still don't know that she had an abortion, even though 12 years have passed.

And tell her story, she added, because it is relevant to the abortion-rights bill passed by the Maryland legislature this week.

The bill, which was signed by the governor Monday evening, allows abortion without government interference until a fetus might be able to survive outside the womb. But it also requires a doctor to notify the parent of a minor before she has an abortion, unless he concludes that such notification would not be in the girl's best interest, or that she is mature enough to make her own decision.

Teen-age girls interviewed yesterday voiced a range of opinions about parental notification.

"Teen-age girls can decide for themselves what to do with their bodies," said Jessica Klaitman, 17, a senior at Baltimore City College and a member of Maryland Students for Choice. "If a teen is not mature enough to decide to have an abortion, how can she carry through a pregnancy and raise a child?"

For Angela Shawen, 17, a senior at Mount De Sales Academy, a Catholic school, the parental notification clause in the legislation does not go nearly far enough.

"We need parental notification, but not the way it's stated in the bill," she said. "Now it's pro-choice, pro-abortion and pro-death. Parents have a right to know -- it's their grandchild that will be dying."

But grandparents' rights had little to do with the emotions Laura grappled with a dozen years ago.

"I felt extremely ashamed," Laura remembers about her pregnancy. "There was a lot of shame and guilt. I didn't want my mother to feel that she was a failure as a mother. I felt my pregnancy would devastate my mother even more than me."

Laura calls the parental notification clause "not a real good idea" and predicts that "people will make efforts to circumvent it."

Jean, a 16-year-old junior at Old Mill High School in Millersville, who asked that her real name not be used, found herself in a situation similar to Laura's several months ago. She told her parents she waspregnant, and they urged her to get an abortion -- which turned out not to be necessary because she had a miscarriage.

Despite her decision to tell her parents, Jean questions requiring parental notification.

"I think it should be the girl's choice and she shouldn't have to consult anyone," Jean said. "It's not anyone else's problem. She got herself into that situation. She's the one that will be stuck with the child."

Currently 38 states have laws requiring parental consent or notification for abortions for minors. But 22 of the states' laws are not enforced for reasons of constitutionality. Prior to yesterday's legislation, Maryland had a parental notification law but it was not enforced because it had been considered unconstitutional based on Supreme Court rulings.

Anti-abortionists point out that parental consent is required for most medical procedures for minors (although treatment of sexually transmitted diseases is specifically exempted).

"If you get your ears pierced, your parent has to consent," said Anne Marie Lears, 14, a De Sales freshman. "Abortion is a lot bigger and more dangerous than getting your ears pierced."

Amy Dolinger, a 16-year-old Old Mill junior, fears that a girl is just opening herself up for more trouble if she tells her parents she's pregnant. "I've heard stories of parents abusing their kids for that sort of thing," she said. "I know a lot of kids who feel they couldn't tell their parents. Some girls would just try to do the abortion themselves and then they could really get hurt."


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