Back to News & Commentary

When Talking to Parents Isn't an Option

Louise Melling,
Deputy Legal Director and Director of Ruth Bader Ginsburg Center for Liberty,
Share This Page
November 23, 2010

On Friday, the ACLU joined with Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights in challenging a law that requires a teen to notify a parent or go to court before having an abortion. It is critical that laws like this don’t go unchallenged. I know from my own experience how bad these laws can be.

They taught me to think. They taught me to question. They taught me to treat people well. They took me and my questions and curiosities seriously. They taught me with words and examples.

They told me I could do anything. Or almost anything. My father told me I would no longer be his daughter if I had sex before marriage. I believed him. He was a man of his word. He was a man of principle. With those words, he taught me that love was powerful, embracing, and perilously fragile.

As my own experience tells me, not everyone comes from a home where she can safely tell a parent about a pregnancy. I know what it means to think about losing love and trust and home. For some teens, the consequences can be even worse – especially in the cases of those who come from abusive homes or who may be the victims of incest.

And seeking judicial consent isn’t always a valid option. It’s incredibly daunting for a teen in any case to approach and navigate the legal system, especially if she is alone and in crisis. In Alaska, teens who live in rural areas or small towns may find it logistically difficult, if not impossible, to obtain consent from a judge without compromising their anonymity. I understand that too. I came from a town of 1,000 people. There was no public transportation to the towns with a courthouse. I didn’t have a driver’s license. And the distances I would have faced were nothing compared to those a teen in rural Alaska faces.

A teen must not face insurmountable obstacles to decide what is the right choice, and the safest choice, for her and her circumstances. If we care about teens, if we care about families, we have to challenge these laws.