Last Word

March 21, 2003

Teenage abortion: Parents need to know

 

LAST WORD

Teenage abortion: Parents need to know

By Martina Nicholson, MD

For 30 years, pro-abortion counselors have been trying to convince us that families are not to be trusted to love and support their children. I believe, though, that most parents truly want what is best for their children and should be given full information so they can help them. The Medical Economics survey on physician attitudes toward abortion indicates that most doctors feel the same way I do—72 percent of respondents believe that parents should be notified before a teen can obtain an abortion.

That's because we recognize that parents remain the most important advocates for their children. If a child is dying of AIDS or has suffered a trauma, the family is always the main source for care. Why should it be any different for abortion? No government agency or charitable organization, however well intentioned, can take up the full burden of support.

Most mothers and fathers of teens whom I counsel are angry about confidentiality laws that come between them and their children. Doctors need the legal freedom to deal truthfully with parents. I try to encourage mothers of young women to bring them in early for ob/gyn care. This not only establishes the teen's relationship with a physician, it also encourages the mother to recognize that her daughter is now fertile and must take up the responsibilities of sexual activity. Then, if an adolescent pregnancy does occur, it's more likely to be handled within the context of the family.

No physician I know would want her daughter to be able to obtain an abortion without parental notification. Don't our patients deserve the same standard?

Adolescents should not be able to use counseling as a means of avoiding the consequences of their actions. Counselors should be obliged to make full disclosures to parents, to encourage teens to take more responsibility for their sexual activity—and to strengthen the family. This would completely reverse the current bias against parents because it would recognize the family unit as the main support system for children—and society's most important social unit.

Most physicians acknowledge the need for accountability in sexual behavior, and consider it important that teens begin to be responsible as they move into adulthood. The politically correct community, on the other hand, seems to assume that pregnancy is the worst thing that could happen to a teen and that she should be encouraged not to take responsibility for it. But my observation is that many teens who see their pregnancies through often experience a growth in maturity—and a deep level of healing within their families.

Although most physicians think abortion should be legal, and most of us want parents notified before a pregnant teen can get an abortion, most of us would truly prefer to see the number of procedures decline because of adequate preventive contraception. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists advocates over-the-counter emergency contraceptives for condom-failures, or "morning-after pills," so that patients get this medicine in a timely fashion, without having to be counseled by a doctor or a pharmacist. If all insurance companies were required to cover contraceptives and all the working poor were entitled to health insurance, the rate of abortion would soon decline.

Some day, I hope abortion will be a very rare procedure. Until then, I pray that families will get the medical advocacy they deserve.

The author is an ob/gyn specialist in Santa Cruz, CA. The results of the survey to which Dr. Nicholson refers were published in "Choices: Exclusive Ethics Survey," Oct. 11, 2002.

 

Martina Nicholson. Last Word. Medical Economics 2003;6:130.