Politics & Policy

A Parent’s Prerogative

When it comes to a daughter's abortion, parents have a right to be involved.

Two weeks ago, during a Senate Judiciary hearing on the Child Custody Protection Act (CCPA), Dr. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale, an Episcopal priest, testified on behalf of NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. She explained:

I recall vividly a day when I left my home near Cambridge, Massachusetts, and drove to one of the economically challenged cities to the north of me to pick up a fifteen-year-old girl and drive her to Boston for an 8 a.m. appointment for an abortion. I didn’t know the girl–I knew her school nurse. The nurse had called me a few days earlier to see if I knew where she might find money to give the girl for bus fare to and cab fare home from the hospital. I was stunned–a fifteen-year-old girl was going to have to get up at the crack of dawn and take multiple buses to the hospital alone?

In Ragsdale’s mind, apparently, riding the bus is more worthy of anxiety than having an abortion. Yet she testified immediately after Crystal Lane and her mother, Joyce Farley, who related that when Crystal was just 13, she was taken out of state for an abortion by the mother of her 19-year-old assailant. Joyce didn’t know about the abortion until Crystal developed severe complications that required hospitalization.

It wasn’t a bus that put her in the hospital.

The CCPA would make it illegal for someone to transport a minor out of state for an abortion without parental consent. It makes an exception for judicial bypass in particular cases when a parent is not available to give consent. To date, 44 states have some form of laws requiring parental consent for a minor’s abortion. But unfortunately, due to constitutional infirmities (state or federal) and clauses allowing abortion providers to determine when parental consent is not required, only 26 of those states have actual working consent laws.

In Crystal’s case, parental consent would have meant the difference between the life and death of her unborn child. It would have meant maintaining her own health. It might also have meant stopping her assailant sooner–before he could go on to other victims.

Ragsdale explained in her testimony that during the drive with the 15-year-old girl she’d never met before, the teenager indicated that her pregnancy had been the result of coerced sex. Yet Ragsdale makes no mention of any type of follow-up in this matter. Coerced sex, whether rape or date rape, should never be taken lightly or ignored. In fact, most states have mandatory reporting laws for any teacher or counselor who learns of any possible sexual abuse of a minor.

Ragsdale doesn’t tell us when this trip took place. Since she’s given the same testimony several times in recent years, perhaps we can presume that it occurred before Massachusetts required mandatory reporting for clergy as well.

Senator Jeff Sessions (R., Alab.), presiding at the hearing, asked Ragsdale whether she’d followed up with the girl. Ragsdale vaguely indicated that she might have been in touch with her once or twice. No mention was made of legal action against the young man who allegedly forced this girl to have sex.

Professor Teresa Stanton Collett of the University of St. Thomas School of Law was to have testified prior to Lane, Farley, and Ragsdale at the same hearing. But the panels were switched to accommodate the Senate schedule, and when she did at last speak, the timing couldn’t have been better. After anecdotal testimony from both sides indicated that sexual coercion was a factor in an underage pregnancy, Collett provided data to confirm the trend of young women being exploited by older men.

Various studies have indicated that almost two-thirds of adolescent mothers have sexual partners older than 20. More children of minors are fathered by older men than by men under the age of18. In a survey of 1500 unmarried minors who had had abortions, 89 percent said that the boyfriend was involved in deciding or arranging the abortion. Taken as a whole, as Collett suggests, the data indicates that a number of young girls who have abortions are encouraged by partners who could face statutory-rape charges. Getting rid of the pregnancy allows these men to destroy public evidence of their crime.

Although Ragsdale indicated during the questioning that her experience was actually a case of judicial bypass and therefore not relevant to the CCPA, the grave absurdity of the situation cannot be ignored: Riding the bus is dangerous, but an abortion is just a little “procedure” that helps stymie the prosecution of a sex offender.

Many parents faced with the unexpected pregnancy of a teenage daughter understandably have a difficult time accepting the situation. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want to be involved or that they’ve forfeited their rights as parents. Moreover, in the case of criminal behavior, they will certainly want justice for their daughter. But secret abortions deny them their right to be involved in her life.

And yet, when the abortion leaves physical or emotional damage–or both–it’ll be her parents who are responsible for care of their daughter, not the Reverend Dr. Ragsdale.

Pia de Solenni is the director of life and women’s issues at the Family Research Council, Washington, D.C.


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