On Our Radar: (Another) Parental Consent Bill in Maine

During the upcoming 2015 legislative session, the Maine Legislature will consider LD 83, a bill that would require minors (under 18) and adults under guardianship to get the written consent of a parent or legal guardian in order to obtain an abortion. If this feels like a  rerun, that’s because it is–legislators defeated a version of the bill in 2013 and 2011, in part because it’s so out of touch with the way real Maine families work.

Maine already has an adult involvement law, and it works. For over 25 years, Maine’s adult involvement law has encouraged family involvement in a teen’s decision to seek abortion, while providing young people with the guidance and support necessary to evaluate all of the options available. The current law is a bipartisan success story–the result of a compromise between republicans and democrats, backed by organizations that support abortion rights and those that oppose them. Our state’s adult involvement law stands as a national model because it works– it truly protects and respects the health, safety, and dignity of young people. 

If the current bill were to pass, signed consent from a biological parent or legal guardian would be required before a young person could obtain an abortion. That parent or guardian would also have to provide a government-issued ID and written proof that they are the legal parent or guardian of the minor seeking care. Not only does this ignore step-parents, trusted family members, and teens who do not live with or do not have safe, healthy relationships with their legal parents, but burdens even the most supportive of parents to travel to the health center and provide documentation they may not have.

A sibling (21 years or older), step-parent, or grandparent could give consent, but only if the teen submits a written statement alleging physical or sexual abuse by a parent or legal guardian. This requirement would expose both the teen and her family to investigation by child protective services and/or law enforcement. Coercing victims of abuse to tell their stories–especially when they don’t feel safe or ready to do so–doesn’t keep them safe. Victims of abuse should never be forced to disclose abuse in order to access health care.

The fact is, a “one-size-fits all” mandate requiring parental consent does not help keep young people safe. We all hope every young person will make important health decisions with the support and guidance of a trusted adult, but there are times when teens just can’t talk to their parents. Young people who choose not to involve their parents usually have very good reasons for this decision, and mandating communication doesn’t negate those concerns. Other young people may not live with or be in contact with their parents, or may have supportive parents who do not have the required documentation or can’t get to the health center.

Young people are capable of making thoughtful, informed decisions about their reproductive health, and most teens do involve their parents in important decisions– including how to handle an unintended pregnancy. Healthy communication between young people and the adults in their lives cannot be legislated, but we can work to ensure that safe reproductive health services are available to all people in Maine–regardless of their age, family relationships, or disability status.

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