Teen-agers, Parents and Abortion

October 04, 1992

Opponents of Question 6, the abortion law on the Novembe ballot, maintain the bill would allow minors to obtain abortions without their parents' knowledge. They say the law's provision requiring a physician to notify a parent has exceptions that make the requirement meaningless.

Here are the facts: Currently, a girl under 18 years old can get an abortion in Maryland without parental involvement. If Question 6 passes, this state would have a parental notification requirement that meets constitutional muster.

Maryland's 1977 law requiring a physician to notify parents of a minor's decision to have an abortion is unenforceable because it does not meet the Supreme Court's standards for laws on parental consent or notification. The exceptions to the parental notification requirement in Question 6 reflect constitutional requirements set forth by the court and left standing in all its recent decisions.

Some history may be helpful. The 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion dealt with an adult woman's right to an abortion; it did not address the rights of minors. But as states began placing restrictions on a minor's access to abortion, challenges to these laws made their way to the Supreme Court.

In 1976, the court rejected a Missouri law that allowed parents to veto a daughter's decision to have an abortion. With that question settled, states began including procedures for allowing girls to bypass their parents under certain circumstances. By the early 1980s, cases involving these laws began reaching the court, and it started setting constitutional standards for ways to involve parents in the decision.

Like Maryland, some states required that parents be notified, while other states sought a parent's consent. Some states set up the bypass procedure through a judge; others, like Maryland, designated a physician.

In any case, the courts have consistently required that a bypass procedure allow consideration of a girl's maturity as well as her best interests. Maryland's 1977 law fell short because it allowed exceptions to the notification requirement only in cases where -- the physician believed that telling the parents would result in physical or emotional abuse to the girl.

There is much confusing advertising and politicking over Question 6. The charge that the law will allow physicians to perform abortions on young girls without their parents' knowledge conveniently overlooks the fact that the state now has no notification requirement at all.

Question 6's notification "loopholes" are required by the Supreme Court. Defeating the law would not change that; it would simply assure that Maryland remains without any provision for involving parents in a girl's decision about abortion.

We urge a vote "FOR" Question 6 on Nov. 3.

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