A parental notification law is found wanting Study finds such a law probably would do more harm than good.

August 14, 1992|By Michael Hill | Michael Hill,Staff Writer

,TC An article in The Sun yesterday incorrectly characterized a provision in the abortion law that Maryland voters will consider in November's referendum. The law contains a provision that doctors notify a teen-ager's parents before her abortion, but it also includes exceptions to that requirement.

The Sun regrets the error.

While politicians were talking about laws requiring parents to be notified before a teen-ager's abortion, most of the 334 pregnant girls studied in Baltimore were talking to their parents, a Johns Hopkins researcher reports.

And a law requiring parents to be notified of abortions probably would do more harm than good, researcher Laurie S. Zabin contends. In an article published in the July/August issue of the journal Family Planning Perspective, she found that 91 percent of the pregnant teen-agers in her study talked with a parent or guardian before deciding what to do about the pregnancy.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

"Certainly a goodly percentage talked to adults before the pregnancy test, but a lot more had such a talk after," said Dr. Zabin, an associate professor of population dynamics at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.

"What would happen if there were a law requiring parental notification is that a far larger number of the girls would not come in for the [pregnancy] test," she said. "This would delay their getting in contact with professionals for prenatal care, or, if they so decided, for an abortion early in their term."

The law Maryland voters will consider in November's referendum specifies that doctors do not have to notify a teen-ager's parents before her abortion.

Dr. Zabin's work focused on 334 black Baltimore teen-agers who were interviewed after coming into Planned Parenthood or Johns Hopkins' Comprehensive Child Care Center for pregnancy tests in 1985 and 1986 and were then followed for two years.

She found that 66 percent of the girls had talked to a parent or guardian before the test. Of those who were pregnant -- more than 200 -- 91 percent had such a talk while 6 percent turned to another adult before a final decision about the pregnancy was made. "You also have to realize that the few that did not talk to a parent almost always had a very good reason," she said, noting that in many of the cases it was because they were not living with either parent. "It would be ridiculous to require them to notify someone who is no longer acting in the role of their parent. Often these are girls who have been making decisions on their own for some time."

She pointed to further data showing that those who did not talk to an adult were, a year later, just as satisfied with their decision concerning the pregnancy as those who had. In fact, she found that among the main reasons for dissatisfaction was that an adult forced the teen-ager to make a decision she disagreed with.

Bradley Alston, who runs Fremont Family Resource Center, said yesterday that he was not surprised by Dr. Zabin's findings. "The mother of these teen parents -- or the father if he lives with the family -- is almost always involved in the whole process," he said. "And if they are not, something is going on. It might be physical abuse. It might just be that the mother has some problems of her own."

Mr. Alston, describing proposals to require parental notification before abortions as "wrong-headed," said, "They don't have too much to do with reality."

By the time a decision had been reached about the pregnancy, about 90 percent of those living with their mothers had told them, Dr. Zabin found.

Only 1 percent of those confided in another adult. However, among those not living with their mothers, some 26 percent talked to another adult about their pregnancies.

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