Doctors would be required to inform parents and guardians before their child under the age of 18 has an abortion under a bill considered Monday’s by the Senate Law and Justice Committee.
Senate Bill 5289 would require doctors to certify that notice has been given to the patient’s parent or guardian 48 hours before the procedure is performed.
Supporters of the bill say the bill would encourage young women considering an abortion to turn to her family, which could provide emotional and other support.
Sierra Rasmussen told the committee she underwent an abortion six years ago, at age 16, without telling her parents, despite their good relationship.
“I thought about how crazy it was that I was going through this procedure. I couldn’t go to a tanning bed or go to an R-rated movie,” she said.
She says as a result of the emotional turmoil she faced after the procedure that she felt she had to keep from her family, she turned to drug abuse.
“Had a parental notification bill been in place when I was young, I wouldn’t have had to spend six years of my life trying to hide my feelings,” she said.
Opponents of the bill say that the bill endangers young women who have reasons for not talking with their parents about their abortions. Some face abuse or risk being kicked out of their homes for being pregnant.
Lorie Lucky, a volunteer with Washington NARAL, discussed the case of one minor who came to Washington because the law allowed her to get an abortion without informing her parents. The girl had been drugged and raped, Lucky said.
“Her mother had told her that the mother would kill herself if she had a pregnancy outside of marriage.” Lucky said. “I think she deserved to make her own decisions.”
The bill calls for notice, not permission. A pregnant minor would still be allowed to have an abortion without the consent of her parents. The law also would bar a parent or guardian from forcing a daughter to have an abortion.
The bill calls for the following exceptions: if the doctor certifies that a medical emergency exists, if the parent or guardian waives their right to a notice, or if a court says that notice isn’t necessary after a hearing requested by the patient.
The bill makes it a gross misdemeanor for a doctor to perform an abortion on a minor without a parent or guardian’s notification and for anyone to falsely sign a waiver of notice or to coerce a minor into having an abortion.
According to the bill’s fiscal note, the Department of Health estimated that about 1,000 pregnant minors a year receive abortions in Washington and an additional 500 consulted a physician under circumstances that would trigger the notice requirement under this bill.
LeAnna Benn, executive director of Teen-Aid, which promotes abstinence and provides low-cost pregnancy testing for teens, spoke in support of the bill, saying that most families can be a main resource for help during an unplanned pregnancy, especially if a teenager has been trafficked or raped.
“It is a time when they need more support from their family, not less. I found that situations where the parents are involved, the parents are more understanding than they expected,” Benn said. “These young women will need parental support regardless of their choice.”
But Megan Miller, the mother of a 16-year-old, says that while she would hope her daughter would come to her if she were pregnant, not everyone has a good relationship with their parents. It’s important for teens to turn to people they can trust when they are making difficult decisions, she says.
“For children that make decisions — whether they can turn to their parent, or whether it’s a doctor or a counselor — the person can make a decision that’s best for them,” she said.