A Decade of Parental Consent… And 750 Shining Faces!
It has been a little over 10 years since the North Carolina State House of Representatives had conservative leadership. Very few of us remember anything about what happened during that first long session, but one bill has made an impact on many North Carolinians .
The Parental Notification Act of 1995 (I), sponsored by 63 conservative House members, requires that at least one parent or guardian provide written consent before an abortion can be performed on an un-emancipated minor (or a court order under special circumstances). Prior to 1995, physicians performing abortions had the discretion to obtain consent or not.
At its inception, the Act was one of a few that dared challenge what the feminist movement called a “fundamental right”. There were cries that this was the first step in reversing Roe v. Wade. North Carolina was, by all accounts, one of the pioneers in State level abortion regulation. It seemed logical though, that the state would seek to prevent a minor from receiving medical treatment of any kind without parental consent. In 1995 a child could have an abortion but could not be treated for a cold without a parent present.
What the 1995 General Assembly intended was that parents had a say in the medical treatment of their children. It did not outlaw abortion, nor did it restrict what kind of abortion could be performed. It mandated only informed consent from a guardian.
The legal basis for such a law was fairly new at the time. The Supreme Court of the United States upheld a similar Ohio law in 1989. (II) The court said that as long as there is a bypass procedure that fulfills four criteria, then the law will pass constitutional muster. First, the procedure must allow the minor to show that she possesses the maturity and information to make an abortion decision, in consultation with her physician, without regard to her parents’ wishes. Second, the procedure must allow the minor to show that, even if she cannot make the abortion decision by herself, the desired abortion would be in her best interests. Third, the procedure must insure the minor’s anonymity. Fourth, courts must conduct a bypass procedure with expedition to allow the minor an effective opportunity to obtain an abortion.
When drafting the legislation, the General Assembly was careful to add a bypass provision allowing for a court order if consent could not be obtained from the parents. (III) This section of the statute has been cited in a court case where a clear finding of maturity caused a trial court’s failure to order a consent waiver to be overturned. (IV) The entire Act was formally upheld in the United States Court of Appeals in 1997. (V)
In the decade since, the General Assembly has slipped back into liberal control and many of the 1995 bills have been repealed, replaced or forgotten. The Parental Notification Act, however, has made a difference. Now joined by 34 other states and rarely challenged in court, the once controversial act is now daily practice.
The result of the Parental Consent Act has been a decrease in the overall teenage abortion and pregnancy rates. For example, in 1993-1994, 2.99% of teenage pregnancies were terminated by abortion. In 1995, the year the Act was ratified, the rate was down to 2.7%. According to the State Center for Health Statistics, the numbers have continued to fall. In 1996, the percent of teenage abortions was 2.5% and fell to 1.45% in 2002. What appeared to be a slow slump of the pregnancy rate before the legislation was enacted has turned into a plummet.
Are these decreases a direct result of the legislation? It is hard to tell since there is no poll that tracks teenagers who have given birth to indicate if they chose to carry their baby to term because of consent laws. One cannot deny, however, that the same year legislation was passed the rate of teenage abortions began to plummet.
You may choose to call the numbers coincidence. Those who study these things prefer, however, to call them results.
The results, however, don’t seem to make a difference in raw numbers. One percent drop means very little unless made tangible. In the real world, it looks like this: North Carolina now has half as many teenage abortions as it did 10 years ago. That means approximately 75 children a year are being allowed to live that would otherwise have been aborted. Those 750 North Carolinians, with their shining faces and bright futures, were made possible by the conservative leadership during the 1995 General Assembly and all those North Carolina voters who put them in office.
I. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 90-21.7 (1995)
(a) No physician licensed to practice medicine in North Carolina shall perform an abortion upon an unemancipated minor unless the physician or agent thereof or another physician or agent thereof first obtains the written consent of the minor and of: (1) A parent with custody of the minor; or
(2) The legal guardian or legal custodian of the minor; or
(3) A parent with whom the minor is living; or
(4) A grandparent with whom the minor has been living for at least six months immediately preceding the date of the minor’s written consent.
(b) The pregnant minor may petition, on her own behalf or by guardian ad litem, the district court judge assigned to the juvenile proceedings in the district court where the minor resides or where she is physically present for a waiver of the parental consent requirement if:
(1) None of the persons from whom consent must be obtainedpursuant to this section is available to the physician performing the abortion or the physician’s agent or the referring physician or the agent thereof within a reasonable time or manner; or
(2) All of the persons from whom consent must be obtained pursuant to this section refuse to consent to the performance of an abortion; or
(3) The minor elects not to seek consent of the person from whom consent is required.
(II) Ohio v. Akron Ctr. for Reproductive Health , 497 U.S. 502 (1989).
(III) N.C. Gen. Stat. § 90-21.8 (1995)
(a) The requirements and procedures under Part 2 of this Article areavailable and apply to unemancipated minors seeking treatment in this State.
(b) The court shall ensure that the minor or her guardian ad litem is given assistance in preparing and filing the petition and shall ensure that the minor’s identity is kept confidential.
(c) The minor may participate in proceedings in the court on her own behalf or through a guardian ad litem. The court shall advise her that she has a right to court appointed counsel and shall provide her with counsel upon her request.
(d) Court proceedings under this section shall be confidential and shallbe given precedence over other pending matters necessary to ensure that the court may reach a decision promptly. In no case shall the court fail to rule within seven days of the time of filing the application. This time limitation may be extended at the request of the minor. At the hearing, the court shall hear evidence relating to the emotional development, maturity, intellect, and understanding of the minor; the nature, possible consequences, and alternatives to the abortion; and any other evidence that the court may find useful in determining whether the parental consent requirement shall be waived.
(e) The parental consent requirement shall be waived if the court finds:(1) That the minor is mature and well-informed enough to make the abortion decision on her own; or
(2) That it would be in the minor’s best interests that parental consent not be required; or
(3) That the minor is a victim of rape or of felonious incest under G.S. 14-178.
(f) The court shall make written findings of fact and conclusions of law supporting its decision and shall order that a confidential record of the evidence be maintained. If the court finds that the minor has been a victim of incest, whether felonious or misdemeanor, it shall advise theDirector of the Department of Social Services of its findings for further action pursuant to Article 44 of Chapter 7A of the General Statutes.
(g) If the female petitioner so requests in her petition, no summons or other notice may be served upon the parents, guardian, or custodian of the minor female.
(h) The minor may appeal an order issued in accordance with this section. The appeal shall be a de novo hearing in superior court. The notice of appeal shall be filed within 24 hours from the date of issuance of the district court order. The de novo hearing may be held out of district and out of session and shall be held as soon as possible within seven days of the filing of the notice of appeal. The record of the de novo hearing is a confidential record and shall not be open for general public inspection. The Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court shall adopt rules necessary to implement this subsection.
(i) No court costs shall be required of any minor who avails herself of the procedures provided by this section.
(IV) In re: Doe, 126 N.C. App. 401 (1997).
(V) Manning v. Hunt , 119 F.3d 254 (1997).