ACLU Ad Illustrating Dangers of Requiring Teens to Tell Their Parents Before Obtaining an Abortion

Document Date: September 2, 2001

New ACLU Ad Illustrates Dangers of Requiring Teens to Tell Their Parents Before Obtaining an Abortion

NEW YORK – Saying that parental involvement laws harm young women rather than help families, a new American Civil Liberties Union advertisement is aimed at saving the health and lives of young women.

“Which would you rather lose?” the ad asks in bold type, “(A) Control over your daughter’s reproductive decisions, or (B) Your daughter.”

The advertisement, which appears in the September 2 issue of the New York Times Magazine and the September 3 issue of the New Yorker, tells the story of Becky Bell, a 17-year-old from Indiana who died of an illegal abortion in 1988.

Latest ACLU advertisement targeting the dangers of “parental involvement” laws. (Click on the ad for larger version)

Becky came from a warm, caring household, the advertisement explains. But because she was afraid of disappointing her parents — Indiana requires minors seeking abortions to get a parent’s consent or go to court — the law drove her to take drastic measures.

“Mom, Dad, I love you. Forgive me,” were Becky’s dying words. Two days later, a coroner told the Bells: “Your daughter died of an illegal botched abortion; dirty instruments had been used.”

Parental involvement laws are also dangerous for teens who come from troubled families, according to the ACLU. The advertisement chronicles two such cases. In the first, a 13-year-old was raped by her mother’s boyfriend and became pregnant. Compelled by state law, she informed her mother. Her mother called her a slut and threw her out of the house.

In the second, a 16-year-old who was too afraid to confront her parents with her pregnancy had her boyfriend punch her in the stomach in an attempt to abort. She began hemorrhaging but refused to go to the hospital until she was promised that no one would notify her parents.

More than 30 states have parental involvement laws in effect. Other states have laws under review by the courts or bills pending in the legislature.

“We want people to know that mandating parental involvement in a teen’s decision to have an abortion poses a grave danger to young women, whether they come from perfect families or not,” said Louise Melling, Acting Director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project.

“Most teens do involve their parents in their abortion decisions, but the majority of those who don’t refuse to out of fear,” she explained. “The state can’t turn families into loving families by imposing parental involvement laws. Moreover, it can’t stop girls from seeking out dangerous alternatives to a safe, legal abortion when parental involvement laws stand in the way of them getting the care they need.”

For these reasons, leading medical groups, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine oppose laws mandating parental involvement.

Since 1999, the ACLU has helped oppose new or amended parental involvement requirements for abortion in more than half the states. The organization has also helped fight federal legislation that would make it a crime for any person other than a parent — including a grandmother, aunt, or older sister — to transport a teen across state lines for an abortion unless she had already fulfilled the requirements of her home state’s parental involvement law.

If enacted, this legislation would close a critical escape valve that some young women use when they can neither talk to their parents nor face the only alternative: court proceedings in which they must ask a judge to waive a state’s parental involvement requirement. The House passed the legislation in 1999, but not with the two-thirds majority needed to override then-President Clinton’s promised veto. The current administration has indicated its willingness to sign the law if it reaches the president’s desk.

“In the current political climate, we must keep a vigilant eye on reproductive rights, especially the reproductive rights of teens,” said Melling. “We cannot forget the stories of young women like Becky Bell.”

Currently, the ACLU and its affiliates have challenges to parental involvement laws pending in Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, and Ohio.

Last year, the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project won an important state constitutional challenge to a parental notification law in the New Jersey Supreme Court. Agreeing with the ACLU’s argument, the court recognized that “”the Notification Act cannot transform a household with poor lines of communication into a paradigm of the perfect American family.”” Moreover, the court found that “”[i]n addition to parental disappointment and disapproval, the minor may confront physical or emotional abuse, withdrawal of financial support, or actual obstruction of the abortion decision,”” if she is forced to notify a parent.

The reproductive freedom advertisement is the fifth in a series that has been running this year in the New Yorker and the New York Times. To view the other 2001 ads, as well as the ads from 2000 and 1999, go to our online gallery at

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