A new bill in the Massachusetts Legislature could make it easier for minors to get an abortion. The bill, An Act to Remove Obstacles and Expand Abortion Access, known as the ROE Act, does many things, but front and center is a provision to eliminate the need for parental consent.
Under current state law, minors need a parent’s permission to get an abortion. If that’s not possible, or if a teen doesn’t want to ask a parent, she can petition a judge, a process known as judicial bypass.
Those pushing for the new law say the process is overly complicated, and that the status quo doesn’t help pregnant minors.
“The minors consent law that has been in place created a lot of unnecessary and burdensome and harmful barriers for young people in the state,” says Jennifer Childs-Roshak, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. “Young people have the ability to make these personal decisions about health care and about whether they’re ready to be a parent.”
We already trust minors to make reproductive health decisions like buying condoms and getting birth control from a doctor, Childs-Roshak says. She doesn’t see why abortion should be any different.
“In an ideal world, every teenager would have a parent to guide and discuss some of these important things with,” she says. “But the reality is that there are some young people who don’t.”
Yet while Planned Parenthood — along with NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, Massachusetts Family Planning Association, and the American Civil Liberties Union Massachusetts — supports this bill, not everyone agrees the law needs to change.
Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens For Life, says that when it comes to minors — children in the eyes of the law — parents need to be involved. In her mind, if minors need parental consent to get their ears pierced, surely they should need it to get an abortion.
“Abortion is a medical procedure, and it’s an invasive medical procedure, so it’s not nothing from a medical point of view,” she says. “I think everyone would agree that parents have the responsibility for their children’s health and the follow up, and that they need to be involved.”
She also worries that changing the law would mean fewer minors would talk to their parents about an unintended pregnancy. “The law is a great teacher, and anytime if the law is essentially saying we want to break down a relationship in the family, we want to impose ourselves, I think that’s very negative,” she says.
Both sides of the debate acknowledge that the majority of minors who get an abortion in the state do it with parental consent. It’s what the policy should be for those who can’t, or who don’t want to, that inspires disagreement.