Hooray, Bay State! By Passing the ROE Act, Our State Legislature Honors a Fundamental Truth

Aubrey Odom for Unsplash

Thank you, Bay State legislators! By overriding Governor Baker’s veto of the ROE Act, you’ve protected women’s health (and, by extension, the wellbeing of women’s families and partners). Co-sponsored by State Senator Cynthia Creem, the Act protects abortion access in Massachusetts, and is a critical bulwark against potential restrictions and rollbacks by SCOTUS.

But we can learn something from Baker’s veto. He objected specifically to one provision in the Act: the lowering of the age at which women can seek abortion without parental or judicial consent, from 18 to 16. It’s a common objection — that teenagers’ undeveloped and un-myelinated brains render this lower age “irresponsible,” to quote a recent letter in the local paper. As a parent, I get it. I, too, feel queasy at the thought of younger pregnant teenagers acting without parental knowledge.

But healthcare, reproductive or otherwise, is not (primarily) about parental feelings. Nor is it about controlling women’s bodies (that’s a whole other Op-Ed). It’s about health. And if you value girls’ health, consider that the American Medical Association, the Society for Adolescent Medicine, the American Public Health Association, the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and other healthcare organizations oppose mandatory parental involvement in abortion-related decisions.

In fact, most kids do involve their parents in these decisions. Those who don’t have excellent reason not to, with dysfunctional family environments topping the list. Never mind that one in ten pregnant minors has experienced sexual abuse in general; one in five pregnant minors has experienced physical abuse by a parent/caretaker, according to DC-based Advocates for Youth. Thirty percent of teens who avoid discussing abortion with their parents fear retaliatory violence or expulsion from home.

If you care about girls — not to mention the other party behind a pregnancy, the potential father — consider that the “chief factor determining whether a teen consult[s] their parent [is] not legislation, but the quality of the teen’s relationship with their parent” (Advocates for Youth). Rather than dissuading teens from obtaining abortions, parental-involvement laws more often simply delay care — leading to costlier, later-term procedures — or compel minors to travel to a less restrictive state, a prohibitively expensive and logistically impossible option for many teens.

As in most states, minors in MA may receive contraception, STI treatment, prenatal care, and other healthcare… all without parental consent. Despite efforts to ghettoize it from the reproductive-healthcare continuum, abortion is likewise a matter between doctor and patient, a 16-year-old female patient included. She is the best judge of whether she may safely involve her parents in decision-making. She’s also the best judge of her readiness for parenthood in the first place. Kudos to state legislators for honoring this truth.

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