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Parental Notification & Age of Consent (Suzanne Meisenzahl)
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Parental Notification & Age of Consent

Hawaii's 2001 legislature is focusing on family issues. The focus is coming from genuine concern for the welfare of children and families, but it is teen girls, ages 14 to 17 most affected as their reproductive choices are threatened. Regardless of a woman's age, reproductive rights are fundamental and the state must have a very strong reason to restrict them in any way.

The fourteen anti-choice bills now before the legislature were introduced by those who wish to diminish reproductive choices for women. They were not initiated by physicians or medical groups, youth advocates, battered women advocates, young women's associations, groups fighting the abuse of children or other organizations traditionally concerned with helping teenagers and families.

Parental Notification

The parental notification law that has been introduced this year would require physicians to notify parents of a minor under age 18, at least 4 days before performing an abortion. Currently parental involvement is not required for ages 14 or older. The proponents say this law is about parent' rights and one purpose, among many, is to foster family unity. If only. These proposed laws are unnecessary in stable, supportive families and ineffective, cruel, and unsafe for unstable, troubled families.

The AMA (American Medical Association) opposes parental involvement laws concerned that "the need for privacy may be compelling, (and) minors may be driven to desperate measures to maintain confidentiality": "The desire to maintain secrecy has been one of the leading reasons for illegal abortion deaths since 1973". The AMA also maintains that parental involvement laws increase the risk of harm to the adolescent by delaying access to appropriate medical care. Although the laws seem to have little effect on reducing abortion among teens they do increase the number of second trimester abortions. Minors who are sexually active, pregnant or infected with sexually transmitted diseases may avoid seeking care if they must involve their parents.

Family Planning Centers of Hawaii, providing reproductive healthcare services since 1966 try to make abortion less necessary by providing education and confidential family planning services that reduce unintended pregnancy. Those young women that do experience unintended pregnancy deserve respectful counseling on all their options. Family involvement is always part of counseling intake for all minor patients and most have talked with an adult. Interestingly, in many cases the adult chosen is an auntie, tutu, older sister, clergy, and not a parent.

We support age-appropriate health & sexuality education, access to confidential health services, life option programs that offer teens practical skills and programs for pregnant and parenting teens that help ensure that teens finish school.

Age of Consent

Age of Consent bills also affect a teenage girl's rights. Proponents would have us believe that by increasing the age of consent we will stop predatory adults from preying on teenagers. If we want to stop adults from preying on teenagers we should target the adults, not the teenagers. The bill will not solve this problem of adults taking advantage of minors. The bill would only affect those teenagers who are involved in consensual relationships. If sex isn't consensual, at any age, it is sex assault. If it is consensual victims are not likely to make a report or to cooperate with prosecution. The outcome of the criminal justice system relies heavily on the willing participation of the victim.

Honolulu Prosecutor, Peter Carlisle, testified that in the last year only three cases have been brought in to his office and two of them were incest related. When a teenager believes sexual activity was "consensual," taking criminal action before she is ready can result in strengthening her bond to the male and seeing herself as the perpetrator and he the victim.

The AMA recommends that "prosecutors, police, service providers, child support enforcement units, and community/citizen groups should come together in a jurisdiction-wide task force to improve communications and understanding of what role the criminal justice system can play in protecting vulnerable young girls from unlawful sexual relationships." There is no bill recommending this.

These are all vital issues that need to be understood and thoughtfully considered if the protection of teenagers is the goal. Changing laws without first addressing all aspects of the impact of those laws would be the real crime.

Suzanne Meisenzahl.
Co-chair, Violence Prevention Committee

Thanks to Hawaii Family Planning Centers of Hawaii, Sex Abuse Treatment Center and the Hawaii Committee on the Status of Women in preparing this article.

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