Adult Involvement in Abortion Decisions among Minors: A Qualitative Study

Background

Thirty-four states in the U.S. enforce a parental involvement (PI) law requiring adolescents under the age of 18 to either notify or obtain consent from a parent or guardian prior to obtaining an abortion. Currently, Illinois is the only state in the Midwest not enforcing a PI law; however, recent court rulings indicate that Illinois’ Parental Notification of Abortion Law may soon go into effect. Illinois law would require that all minors under the age of 18 obtain written notification from an adult family figure (defined by law as a parent, legal guardian, grandparent, or stepparent that resides with the minor) prior to obtaining an abortion. If the minor does not wish to notify this adult family figure she may obtain permission from a judge by undergoing judicial bypass. In light of the continued proliferation of PI laws across the country – and Illinois’ unique position as the last Midwest state without a PI law in effect – it is critical to understand the how these laws may impact adolescents.

Description

This study aimed to understand the potential effects of parental notification laws by asking Illinois minors how their parent(s) reacted when they found out, either voluntarily or against the minor’s will, about the minor’s abortion. For parents who were not informed, the focus was on what the minor thought the result would be if she had consulted her parents about her abortion decision. Additionally, this research asked the minor her opinions and views about parental notification laws. Taken together, this research will lead to a deeper understanding of the reasons behind minors’ involvement or non-involvement of parents in their abortion decisions and the effects mandatory notification may have on adolescent well-being.

Eligible participants had to be between the ages of 12-17, English-speaking, consent to the abortion procedure, and the current pregnancy could not be the result of sexual assault. We enrolled 30 minors seeking abortion services at three Chicago-area abortion clinics in the summer of 2010. We conducted 20-minute open-ended qualitative interviews with the minors on the day of their abortion prior to the actual procedure. Informed consent to participate in the research was obtained after the minor had signed the necessary paperwork consenting to the abortion. All interviews were conducted in a private room at the clinic and prior to the administration of any sedatives, analgesics, or cervical ripening agents.

Minors were first asked if they voluntarily informed either parent (or legal guardian) about their pregnancy and abortion, and, if so, what their reactions were. Further probes were elicited to flesh out any positive or negative consequences of parental involvement, timing of notification with respect to obtaining abortion services, and whether or not the adults provided any subsequent financial or emotional support during the abortion-seeking process. Minors who acknowledged involuntary parental notification – either by a third party or by circumstances that pressured them into notifying a parent – where asked to describe similar effects. Minors who disclosed that they did not inform a parent where asked what they thought their parental reactions would have been and their reasons for not notifying a parent. Finally, all minors, regardless of notification status, were informed about the pending Illinois Parental Notification of Abortion Law and asked their opinions and views about the law. Particular attention was given to those minors who did not inform a parent about their abortion by eliciting their views on how a Parental Notification law would have impacted their abortion-decision process.

Results

Results which describe abortion seeking minors' views on Illinois' Parental Notification Law now available in poster form [PDF] and in this brief [PDF] which highlights quotes from the minors interviewed. In a study published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, the majority of abortion-seeking minors interviewed believed that a parental notification law would diminish minors' reproductive autonomy and potentially expose them to unwanted pressure or interference in their abortion decision. At the same time, many felt that voluntarily involvment of a trusted adult could benefit minors. [LINK] Additional data analysis is ongoing.

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