This spring the journal Economic Inquiry published a study by Joseph Sabia and Daniel Reese which found very solid evidence that pro-life parental involvement laws reduce the suicide rate for teen females. This peer-reviewed study is both methodologically rigorous and well done. Analyzing state-level suicide data from 1987 to 2003 and holding constant both state-level trends and a range of economic and demographic factors, it finds that parental involvement laws reduce the suicide rate for teen females anywhere from 11 to 21 percent. The authors argue that this is because parental involvement laws reduce the incidence of stressful life events. These include unprotected sexual intercourse, STDs, pregnancies, and abortions.
The authors utilize an impressive range of statistical tests to document their findings. For instance, the regression results indicate that parental involvement laws have only a marginal impact on the suicide rate of older females who would not be directly affected by the law. Also, parental involvement laws have little impact on the suicide rate for teen males. However, this is consistent with the hypothesis that unprotected sex imposes a greater psychological burden on female adolescents than on their male counterparts. Finally, parental involvement laws have less of an effect on teen female suicide rates — if adjacent states are not enforcing parental involvement laws.
Overall, this study contributes to a growing body of peer-reviewed research which documents the positive public-health impact of pro-life parental-involvement laws. There exist at least 16 peer-reviewed studies which find that parental involvement laws result in statistically significant reductions in the in-state abortion rate for minors. Obviously some minors circumvent these laws by obtaining abortions in states without such laws. However, every study that tracks both in-state and out-of-state abortions finds that the in-state decline significantly exceeds the out-of-state increase.
Additionally, a 2003 study in the Journal of Health Economics by Phillip Levine found that parental-involvement laws reduce the pregnancy rate of 15- to 17-year-olds by 4 to 9 percent. A 2008 study in the Journal of Law Economics and Organization by Jonathan Klick and Thomas Stratmann shows that parental involvement laws reduce gonorrhea rates anywhere from 12 to 20 percent for females under 20. Pro-choice opponents of parental-involvement laws frequently argue that they will lead to a higher incidence of child abuse. However, there is no comparable body of peer-reviewed evidence demonstrating the negative public-health impact of these laws.
Earlier this month the House Judiciary Committee approved the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act (CIANA). This act would strengthen the over 30 state-level pro-life parental-involvement laws currently in place by making it illegal for a non-parent to circumvent these laws by taking a minor girl across state lines for an abortion. The House Leadership should schedule a vote on this piece of legislation. Parental-involvement laws have always polled well with the general public. More important, there is plenty of good evidence that CIANA will not only prevent abortions, but also will protect the health of teen girls.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan –Dearborn, a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an adjunct scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_J_New