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Ages of Consent for Various Purposes:

A commenter writes, "Abortion rights advocates declare any [pregnant] female is mature enough to obtain an abortion without parental consent. That means girls are mature enough to make [decisions] in picking sex partners."

I don't think this works. Judgments about age cutoffs for various behavior (driving, sex, smoking, alcohol consumption, abortion, other medical procedures, contracting) rightly turn on a variety of factors, including the cost of prohibiting the behavior as well as the cost of immature behavior. We let people drive before we let them drink because not being able to drive imposes a much greater burden on older teenagers (and on their parents and prospective employers and educators) than does not being able to drink. Likewise, stopping a girl from having an abortion could harm her future life much more than stopping a girl from having sex would.

Now of course one could argue that letting girls have abortions without parental consent harms their future lives, too, or that it violates their parents' rights or whatever else. My point is simply that one can't just assume that the age cutoffs for the decision to have an abortion must be the same as the age cutoffs for sex, drinking, smoking, driving, or contracting. It's true that the age cutoffs for all of these do have to do with our judgment about maturity — but they also have to do with other matters that may justify different age cutoffs for different behaviors.

(Note that the current federal constitutional rule is that state law may require underage girls to get parental consent for abortion, though it must provide the option of a judicial bypass on the grounds that "the young woman is mature and capable of giving informed consent and has, in fact, given her informed consent" or "that an abortion would be in her best interests." But some state constitutional rules give broader abortion rights to underage girls, and, as the commenter suggests, some abortion rights advocates do support such broad rights for girls.)

The Ace:
I agree with your "factor test," this one has always troubled me:

Age to enlist, commit your life for five years (or more due to Stop-Loss), and die for your country serving in Iraq: 18

Age to drink a cold beer on a hot day: 21
4.25.2008 11:36am
New World Dan (www):
I've argued for some time now, that where possible, "young adults" (perhaps those aged 15-19) should be treated on a basis that pro-rates their relative adulthood. In terms of criminal prosecutions, age of consent, and so forth. It seems to me that an adult having sex with someone aged 15 is more reprehensible than an adult having sex with someone aged 17. As such, the maximum and typical penalty for an adult having sex with a 17 year old should be less than for with a 15 year old. However, where binary decsions need to be made, obviously there needs to be distinct cutoffs (unless one wishes to do individual analysis of every young adult out there which I feel would be quite impractical). Voting, alcohol, driving, medical decisions (including abortion) all fall into this category.

In this sense, driving may be a model for abortion policy: in most states you can get a learner's permit (with parental consent) at age 15 and a full license at 16. It might be appropriate in abortion policy to require parental approval below the age of 16 and only parental notification below the ages of 16 and 18, though I suggest the actual ages and rules are best left to decisions by individual states.
4.25.2008 11:36am
ithaqua (mail):
"Likewise, stopping a girl from having an abortion could harm her future life much more than stopping a girl from having sex would."

Rubbish. Saving a human life is never harmful, nor is keeping someone from becoming a murderer ever wrong.

That being said, and although I support abortion laws similar to El Salvador's, this:

"Abortion rights advocates declare any [pregnant] female is mature enough to obtain an abortion without parental consent. That means girls are mature enough to make [decisions] in picking sex partners."


is a silly argument. There's no reason to think that the decision to have sex is at all equivalent to the decision to have an abortion - abortion is about the unborn child and its rights, while the age of consent is about the underage person and protecting their rights. Or do you you want to claim that underage girls can/should be able to have sex with parental consent?
4.25.2008 11:39am
Russell (mail):
I think you're mischaracterizing the "federal constitutional rule" in the last paragraph. It's not that "underage girls generally must get parental consent for abortion," but rather that it is generally constitutional for states to require consent in those circumstances (although, as you note, some state constitutions may provide broader protection). But the consent requirements themselves stem from state statutory law (or, I suppose potentially, common law), not the federal constitution. [EV: Good catch, thanks! I was being sloppy, and revised the post accordingly.]

(I suppose that it is also true that, if Congress can pass a federal "partial birth abortion" statute, it could also enact a uniform consent requirement. But it hasn't, and state constitutional rules would presumably then not be a defense.)
4.25.2008 11:40am
ithaqua (mail):
That is to say: if you accept the liberal argument that abortion is about the woman and only about the woman, and assume - analogously to the age of consent - that an underage woman cannot make an informed choice, then what? You have a pregnant, underage girl; if she's too immature to decide to have an abortion on her own, she's also too immature to decide to keep the baby on her own; as a result, this line of argument allows parents to force their daughters to have abortions if they decide it's the 'best choice' for them. Creepy.
4.25.2008 11:45am
Blue (mail):
Zacharias, there are significant Bill of Rights limitations imposed on minors.

Good lord these threads are starting to creep me out.
4.25.2008 11:57am
DangerMouse:
Ithaqua: abortion is not terminating a "human life." Eggs (fertilized or not) and sperm, not to mention skin cells, are "human" and "life" but not entitled to the protection afforded to "persons."

Gee, thanks for clearing that up. If only we had known, we wouldn't have had 40 years of debate on the matter.
4.25.2008 12:02pm
p. rich (mail) (www):
Adulthood today probably begins around the age of 30. That's when Pookie leaves home for her first job with that government-funded Feminist Philosophy degree. And news flash: As the military draft no longer exists, people (not just males) have choices. The last-millenium argument that voting age, or drinking age, or any other "age" should be determined by draft enlistment age is obsolete and even more foolish than it was when originally raised.
4.25.2008 12:16pm
Just a thought:
Zacharias,
If you don't see a difference between human skin cells and a genetically unique, self-directing human organism, then I think there is an impasse.
4.25.2008 12:18pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
Note that the current federal constitutional rule is that underage girls generally must get parental consent for abortion, unless they get a judicial bypass on the grounds that "the young woman is mature and capable of giving informed consent and has, in fact, given her informed consent" or "that an abortion would be in her best interests."
Do you teach your students about Constitutional ban on growing medical marijuana for personal use too?
4.25.2008 12:21pm
Chris 24601 (mail) (www):
Russell's right. It's not unconstitutional for minors not to get parental consent!
4.25.2008 12:25pm
DangerMouse:
I am a scientist not subject to your superstitions, and I know that cloning has shown us that there is no difference between a fetus and a skin cell.

You're not a very good scientist if that's what you think.

I can't wait until the first cloned human appears...

Aren't you supposed to deny that this is what unethical people like you are moving towards? Way to let the cat out of the bag, Zachy.
4.25.2008 12:33pm
some dude:
Likewise, stopping a girl from having an abortion could harm her future life much more than stopping a girl from having sex would.


I don't even quite understand this. Stopping a girl from having sex would harm her future? Her future depends on teenage sex? Or did you mean to say:

Likewise, stopping a girl from having an abortion could harm her future life much more than stopping a girl from having sex would benefit her future.

This doesn't make sense either. Both "not stopping her from having an abortion" and "stopping her from having sex" have the same result (from a cold calculating perspective). No pregnancy.
4.25.2008 12:34pm
Just a thought:
"I am a scientist not subject to your superstitions, and I know that cloning has shown us that there is no difference between a fetus and a skin cell."

Hhmm, I'm superstitious if I think there is a difference between an entire self-directing human organism and a skin cell. I dunno - I think it's pretty well self-evident that there is me as a human being, and that I'm different from my hair or skin or amputated finger.

I'm no scientist nor representative of the pope, but I'm pretty sure that cloning isn't as earth-shattering as you think it is. Identical twins occur when one fertilized egg splits in two, and you get two self-directing human organisms. To me, cloning seems similar. As long as a self-directing human organism is created, whether it be through cloning or twinning, you've got something fundamentally different from skin cells.
4.25.2008 12:38pm
Dave N (mail):
I was reading the comments and was not going to comment, but I will call out arrogance when I see it--and Zacharias certainly has it in spades.

He is obviously against religion--but in the same thread in which he shows absolute contempt toward the Catholic Church, he also has the audacity to a) predict future Catholic theology and then b) mock it.

Note, I am not Catholic. But I am against strawman arguments. They do not advance any debate.
4.25.2008 12:38pm
TheGut (mail):
I've read the exact same arguments from each of the (two main) sides of the abortion debates, going back literally over 1500 years. If no ground has been given up by either side in 1500 years, its a given that no middle ground is going to be reached. So stop arguing about it, and just acknowledge that whichever side can force its view on the other, will.

Its much more interesting to explore the ramifications of the different ages of consent, and the justifications of the different ages.
4.25.2008 12:41pm
DangerMouse:
Its much more interesting to explore the ramifications of the different ages of consent, and the justifications of the different ages.

All of the age limit justifications make perfect sense if you look at them from the perspective of a middle aged feminist who hates America (basically, your typical leftist):

Abortion - no age limit because it is the ultimate way to proclaim that you're a liberated woman. And because the West is, presumably, patriarchial and oppressive, nothing should come between a woman and the altar of abortion, including a pesky thing like age.

Sex - The only real age limits involving these aren't limits on how old you can be before you have sex, but how old your partner is. Feminists would be happy if preschoolers were having sex with each other.

Drinking - Age limits because it encourages older men to have sex, and that means that it's encouraging older men to be pigs. Young people need no encouragement to have sex, alcohol is wasted on them.

Driving Licenses - Age limits here have little to do with liberation and sex, so the limits might actually make sense here.

Marry - Age limits here will be raised and raised (they're only so low because the laws were written when men ran things). Marriage is an oppressive traditionalist institution anyway that must be abolished, so the limits will be raised.
4.25.2008 12:58pm
Seamus (mail):
Furthermore, our law has long recognized a person's right to kill any animal or plant that refuses to stop touching him and that keeps endangering him for 9 months. It's called the Right to Self Defanse.

Really? So one conjoined twin has the right to kill the other, if the other refuses consent to surgery to separate them, or agrees to a surgery date more than 9 months in the future?
4.25.2008 1:04pm
Seamus (mail):
Identical twins occur when one fertilized egg splits in two, and you get two self-directing human organisms. To me, cloning seems similar.

The Catholic Church would agree; that's why it believes that killing the product of either process is immoral.
4.25.2008 1:06pm
Seamus (mail):
The pope will then declare that cloned human not to have a soul, etc., (who knows?) and we will happily enter a new era when the church will have fallen yet another rung on the ladder of science and humanism.

The Church will declare no such thing.
4.25.2008 1:07pm
PersonFromPorlock:
Zacharias:

Hokay, you find the Trinity laughable. But presumably you believe in both Relativity and Quantum Mechanics? At the same time?

I am a metaphysicist and I [break wind] in your general direction.
4.25.2008 1:13pm
Just a thought:
I now don't think Zacharias is a scientist or serious or acting in good faith in his comments, and I apologize to everyone for having started a discussion with him.
4.25.2008 1:22pm
Steve2:
I like your analysis, Professor Volokh (although I don't think there's any "could" about the harm of preventing a girl from getting an abortion), though for the sake of the comment thread we should probably point out that there's no reason that the separate analyses can't end up with the result of "no age of consent for abortion, low age of consent for sex".


Rubbish. Saving a human life is never harmful, nor is keeping someone from becoming a murderer ever wrong.


Nonsense. It isn't a human life or something that can be murdered until it's got a conscious identity. That's well after birth, not before. A comatose person is already dead, a fetus isn't a living person yet.
4.25.2008 1:23pm
Just a thought:
Nonsense. It isn't a human life or something that can be murdered until it's got a conscious identity. That's well after birth, not before. A comatose person is already dead, a fetus isn't a living person yet.
So a newborn is not a human life either?
4.25.2008 1:29pm
Joe Kowalski (mail):

It isn't a human life or something that can be murdered until it's got a conscious identity. That's well after birth, not before. A comatose person is already dead, a fetus isn't a living person yet.

So, just for shits and grins, why don't you explain the scientific evidence that demonstrates that you, yourself have a conscious identity. I mean, for all we know you're just a blob of cells banging non-sense on a keyboard. And if you are just another blob of cells, heck why is this thing taking up space in this world, eating food, &breathing air while all the other real humans are suffering?
4.25.2008 1:35pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Furthermore, our law has long recognized a person's right to kill any animal or plant that refuses to stop touching him and that keeps endangering him for 9 months. It's called the Right to Self Defanse.
Oddly enough, even pro-lifers agree that abortion to save the life of the mother is okay. But the vast majority of abortions do not take place to save the life of the mother, or even to protect the mother's health.

And if you think that our laws allow you to kill someone for touching you, you better not have a gun on you when you get onto a crowded bus, or there are going to be a lot of dead people that jostled you, and you will be going to prison for life.
4.25.2008 1:37pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

A fetus spends nine months attacking the body and compromising the health of a non-consenting mother; the neonate does not.
This would be a strong argument in the case of rape, but a woman who fails to use birth control and gets pregnant as a result of consensual sex is hardly "non-consenting" except in the sense of, "I've changed my mind! Your dead!" Just for laughs, consider what the courts would say if a woman picked up a hitchhiker, and partway through the trip, decided that she didn't want the hitchhiker in her car because he was boring--and then pushed the hitchhiker out of the car at 60 mph, instead of stopping first. Do you suppose the woman would be found innocent of manslaughter?
4.25.2008 1:41pm
whit:
"I mean, for all we know you're just a blob of cells banging non-sense on a keyboard"

considering the quality of posts we get on the internet, this is an intriguing theory :)

present company excepted of course.

(except for you HATTIO!!! ) :)
4.25.2008 1:46pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
There's a lot of merit to the idea that different behaviors might justify different ages. I barely trust 16 year olds to drive. (I put off getting a license until I was 16 1/2--fighting my parents about this, actually--because I didn't think I was ready for the responsibility yet.) I won't vigorously defend why 18 year olds are trusted with long guns, while handguns require you to be 21, but I won't immediately discount the legitimacy of legislative decisionmaking on this. Ditto for those states that set 25 as the minimum age for a concealed handgun license, or to be a driving training instructor (as California used to require). I'm quite persuaded that 21 for alcohol makes a lot of sense--and there are days when 25 (or 65) might make even more sense, if it were enforceable.

What I do find amazing, however, is how liberals insist that trying 14 year olds for murder as adults is unfair, unconstitutional, etc., while insisting that 14 year olds have a constitutionally protected liberty interest in having sex with adults, and 12 year olds should be free to decide on an abortion without parental interference. Too immature to be held responsible for murder? But not too immature to be having sex or having an abortion? What's with that (other than the liberal enthusiasm for letting 14 year old murderers wander the streets)?
4.25.2008 1:48pm
Rock On (www):
This argument is ridiculous and I honestly wish Professor Volokh just kept comment threads closed on abortion-related posts because these arguments never go anywhere. Consciousness and therefore humanity from conception to birth is vague at best. For this reason, combined with the practicalities of what an outright ban entails in light of the absence of a clearly superior moral argument on either side, I find myself in the Safe-Legal-Rare school of thought.
4.25.2008 1:50pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

I find myself in the Safe-Legal-Rare school of thought.
Recent history, not just in the U.S., but in Western Europe, suggests that you get to pick two out of three. You might as well be arguing in favor of the Easter Bunny.

I suppose if birth control was not readily available or was stigmatized in our society, there might be some excuse for how commonly abortion is used as birth control. But that doesn't describe any part of America that I have ever lived in.

To bring this back to the original question: one of the reasons for discouraging minors from having sex, regardless of whether the partner is their age or 30, is that the average minor is about as responsible with birth control and STD prevention as they are with driving, alcohol, cleaning their room, and personal hygiene. We went through an awful period when my daughter was about 12 or 13 where the sharing of hairbrushes with her girlfriends meant frequent episodes with RID and lice killing detergents.

By the way: some pigs just flew by outside my window: J.F. Thomas and I actually agreed that there is something a bit creepy about a 30 year old pursuing a 16 year old for sex. Yes, there are some very mature 16 year olds out there--but darn few. And yes, there are some pretty immature 30 year olds out there. But we have laws on this because there is a perception (and I think with good reason) that most adults pursuing sex with minors who are 10, 15, 20, and 30 years younger than them are exploitive creeps who are obssessed with how tight the orifices are, and prepared to use whatever manipulation is required to take advantage of an immature kid.
4.25.2008 2:15pm
A. Zarkov (mail):
Zacharias:

'... abortion is not terminating a "human life." Eggs (fertilized or not) and sperm, not to mention skin cells, are "human" and "life" '


Abortion is not limited to terminating eggs and sperm; it can legally terminate on a fetus that's in quite an advanced stage of development. If a fetus is truly a non-person then how come some state laws make killing a fetus an act of murder unless done by a doctor in the course of an abortion?

BTW what kind of a scientist are you? Do you know about the theory of Dark Energy (not to be confused with Dark Matter) in cosmology? Tell me how that theory differs from theology.
4.25.2008 2:16pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

If a fetus is truly a non-person then how come some state laws make killing a fetus an act of murder unless done by a doctor in the course of an abortion?
And one of those benighted, Bible Belt states dominated by fundamentalists is...California.
4.25.2008 2:22pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Age to enlist, commit your life for five years (or more due to Stop-Loss), and die for your country serving in Iraq: 18

Age to drink a cold beer on a hot day: 21
One big difference: adult supervision. In practice, most state laws that prohibit sales of beer to 18 year olds don't punish or prohibit you getting a beer out of Mom and Pop's fridge. So far, we haven't reached the point where parents are required to lock up alcohol to keep it away from the kids. Can the pulltop trigger lock laws be far behind?
4.25.2008 2:25pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Consciousness and therefore humanity from conception to birth is vague at best.
Last century, some people (including many pre-eminent scientists who started writing learned papers about Rassenkunde) argued that consciousness and humanity from birth onwards was also a pretty vague concept, leading to the T4 program and somewhat larger actions that you might have heard of, somewhere along the way. Fortunately, narrow-minded bigots played a major part in invading and destroying their government before they completed their program of wiping out the Untermenschen.
4.25.2008 2:33pm
Rock On (www):
Annnnnd with that, Godwin's Law continues to be the gold standard for internet debate, I see.
4.25.2008 3:21pm
Dan Weber (www):
It isn't a human life or something that can be murdered until it's got a conscious identity. That's well after birth, not before.

This isn't that insane of a theory. If you want to debate when life begins, looking at mental development is entirely reasonable. There are steps when the brain exists, when cortical activity starts, and when the being become self-aware. (None of these steps coincide with birth. Some are before, some are after.)
4.25.2008 3:36pm
karrde (mail) (www):
On a subject that is only tangentially related to the exciting discussion of whether a fetus is human...

To my knowledge, anyone under the age of 18 who wishes to have a doctor perform any non-emergency medical procedure needs to get consent from a parent or guardian of said child.

Is this a law, or general medical practice?

And why does there seem to be a special exemption for the invasive medical procedure known as abortion? Why does it need its own law?
4.25.2008 3:45pm
Joe Kowalski (mail):

Annnnnd with that, Godwin's Law continues to be the gold standard for internet debate, I see.

Well, from purely morals &ethics standpoint, to justify abortion on ethics grounds, one must either:
Justify arbitrary distinctions between that which is human and that which is not when there is a lack of clear scientific evidence of what precisely differentiates the human from the non-human;
Or ignoring that issue and just assuming humanity none-the-less, justifying arbitrary power of life and death of one human being over another human being.

Given that the Holocaust and other episodes of genocide have been rationalized on one of the above justifications, the invocation of Godwin is apt.
4.25.2008 3:45pm
Zombie Richard Feynman (mail) (www):
Dark Energy differes from God in volition.

One is a (as yet undescribed) force.

One is an (undescribable) consciousness.
4.25.2008 3:59pm
Smokey:
It isn't a human life or something that can be murdered until it's got a conscious identity. That's well after birth, not before.

This isn't that insane of a theory.


No, it isn't. It's a theory called Eugenics.

It's not insane, it's simply immoral.
4.25.2008 4:10pm
Steve2:
Smokey, as I understand it, eugenics was about making distinctions between people who all had consciousness, not about having a bright-line definition of consciousness for something to be a person. In other words, I took eugenics to be "Yeah, you know who you are and what's happening to you and are capable of liking or disliking that - but we're going to sterilize/kill you anyway". That's something I oppose. I don't think that's at all the same,though, as "It isn't capable of recognizing who, what, or even that it is, isn't capable of recognizing what's going on with it, and isn't capable of emotion or cognition in response. Therefore, it isn't a person, doesn't have a perspective, doesn't have rights, and can be eliminated at any time for a person's benefit." Which is what I believe, re: abortion. And I sincerely apologize to you, Professor Volokh, for having brought this up and hijacked the thread with this. I should have kept my mouth shut.

That said...


To my knowledge, anyone under the age of 18 who wishes to have a doctor perform any non-emergency medical procedure needs to get consent from a parent or guardian of said child.

Is this a law, or general medical practice?

I don't know the answer, but I disagree with it. In general, I think a lot of ages of consent are too high and give parents too much legal control over their offspring too late into those people's lives. It's why I don't tend to agree with in loco parentis applied to high school students - "parental rights" are only ever rights held in trust, with the parent acting solely in loco ego (I hope I got the latin right: in place of the self). By the time someone's 15 or 16, there's no longer any justification for that parental possession of the person's own rights regarding themselves, so parental consent really shouldn't, in my mind, be required for anything. Granted, it may well still be desirable policy on some things for a person still not to be able to consent to something, but as I see it the best way to deal with it is often going to just be that nobody can give that consent, not that the parent be authorized to consent despite the objections of the person they're making the decision for.
4.25.2008 4:46pm
Rock On (www):
Hey guys, don't let civility get in the way of your rhetoric, seriously.
4.25.2008 4:46pm
Suzy (mail):
I agree with the original post here. There's no inconsistency in being flexible, when we acknowledge that the human capacities required in different situations vary, and the harms that can come to people in this situations likewise vary.

One issue that shouldn't be overlooked: the main reason that is given for allowing girls to obtain a judge's consent for an abortion instead of parental consent is that someone in the home may be abusing the girl. In other words, the cases of 'age of consent to sex' and 'age of consent to abortion', though they differ, are also directly linked in at least one important way.
4.25.2008 5:06pm
Seamus (mail):
Though I've asked many times in many different countries, I have never in my life met a romanist who could correctly explain his church's weird Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.

Of course you didn't find anyone who could correctly explain it. That's because it's what theologians call a "mystery."

Or perhaps what you meant was that no one could correctly define it (i.e., they got the Immaculate Conception of the B.V.M. mixed up with the virginal conception of Jesus)?
4.25.2008 5:24pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

One issue that shouldn't be overlooked: the main reason that is given for allowing girls to obtain a judge's consent for an abortion instead of parental consent is that someone in the home may be abusing the girl.
Oddly enough, Planned Parenthood asked for (and I believe received) a California law that exempts from the requirement to report sexual abuse of children--since many of their clients are young enough that someone is clearly engaged in a felony.

How does this work? The law bends to make sure that a 12 year old can get an abortion because someone in the home may be sexually abusing her--and if she gives birth, it will expose the sexual abuse. And the law bends to make sure that she can get an abortion to help hide that she is being sexually abused. Odd: the law always helps to hide the sexual abuser. Why is that?
4.25.2008 5:54pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

Smokey, as I understand it, eugenics was about making distinctions between people who all had consciousness, not about having a bright-line definition of consciousness for something to be a person. In other words, I took eugenics to be "Yeah, you know who you are and what's happening to you and are capable of liking or disliking that - but we're going to sterilize/kill you anyway".
Would you be happy with a law that allowed killing those who are unconscious? They don't know who they are, what's happening to them, and are certainly incapable of liking/disliking that.
4.25.2008 5:57pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):


It isn't a human life or something that can be murdered until it's got a conscious identity. That's well after birth, not before.


This isn't that insane of a theory. If you want to debate when life begins, looking at mental development is entirely reasonable. There are steps when the brain exists, when cortical activity starts, and when the being become self-aware. (None of these steps coincide with birth. Some are before, some are after.)
Long, long ago, I remember some crazy pro-lifers warning about the slippery slope--that once you allow abortion on demand, there would be calls for allowing infanticide. And here it is.
4.25.2008 5:59pm
Ken Arromdee:
And why does there seem to be a special exemption for the invasive medical procedure known as abortion? Why does it need its own law?

1) Because the pregnancy could have been caused by abuse by the parent. (Of course, abuse may cause a child to need other sorts of operations, but rarely are those operations elective.)

2) Because a parent who learns that their daughter wants an abortion may abuse the daughter. In theory, a parent could abuse a child for anything, but the reality is that even abusive parents probably won't say "any child of mine who wants a scar removed will be thrown out into the street". Abusive parents don't react to abortions like they do to other sorts of operations.

3) Because the decision about abortion has consequences that will continue past when the child becomes an adult.
4.25.2008 6:38pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Just deleted a bunch of Zacharias' (= Jimbino's) comments; my apologies to those whose comments become harder to grasp as a result.
4.25.2008 7:44pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

1) Because the pregnancy could have been caused by abuse by the parent. (Of course, abuse may cause a child to need other sorts of operations, but rarely are those operations elective.)
And a guy who has impregnated a girl is going to take a chance on this pregnancy being carried to term because he looks forward to being arrested and convicted of incest or child molestation? Remember: if she carries the child to term, the hospital is going to inform the police, and the child's DNA will provide conclusive proof of who caused the pregnancy.

On the other hand, Planned Parenthood does its best to make evidence unavailable that would allow a child molester to be charged and convicted.

So explain to me why the creep would prevent the abortion? Or is it really about protecting whatever creep impregnated a 13 year old?

2) Because a parent who learns that their daughter wants an abortion may abuse the daughter. In theory, a parent could abuse a child for anything, but the reality is that even abusive parents probably won't say "any child of mine who wants a scar removed will be thrown out into the street". Abusive parents don't react to abortions like they do to other sorts of operations.
This is as least a plausible argument. But since there is a significant problem with parents forcing abortions on a child to avoid the shame of a pregnant 13 year old, whatever happened to a girl's "right to choose"? Hence, the law Idaho just passed that criminalizing forcing someone to have an abortion (and of course, there were a few legislators who claim to be pro-choice--but wouldn't vote for a woman's right to choose life).

Again, it seems that the whole system is set up for "Heads, she has a right to an abortion; tails, she doesn't have a right to say no to an abortion."
4.25.2008 7:44pm
Ken Arromdee:
And a guy who has impregnated a girl is going to take a chance on this pregnancy being carried to term because he looks forward to being arrested and convicted of incest or child molestation?

You're assuming a perfectly rational child molester, which may not necessarily be so.

But since there is a significant problem with parents forcing abortions on a child to avoid the shame of a pregnant 13 year old, whatever happened to a girl's "right to choose"?

Huh?

Are you suggesting that not telling the parents about the abortion encourages parents to force abortions? That makes no sense.
4.25.2008 9:04pm
Smokey:
Steve2:
It isn't a human life or something that can be murdered until it's got a conscious identity. That's well after birth, not before.
By that logic, murdering a month-old child might be no different than killing the child a month before birth.

And this statement seems to be on target:

"The opposition to Justice Owen is not really about abortion rights, it is about abortion profits.

"Simply put, the abortion industry is opposed to parental notice laws because parental notice laws place a hurdle between them and the profits from the abortion clients -- not the girls who come to them, but the adult men who pay for these abortions.

"These adult men, whose average age rises the younger the girl is, are eager not to be disclosed to parents, sometimes living down the street.

"At nearly one million abortions per year, the abortion industry is as big as any corporate interest that lobbies in Washington. They not only ignore the rights of parents, they also protect sexual offenders and statutory rapists."

~ Sen. Orrin Hatch
4.25.2008 9:45pm
theobromophile (www):
So are scientists (and perhaps engineers) given more deference on the abortion debate here? Sign my atheist, ChemE self into the "pro-life" camp. (Oddly, that, coupled with the fact that I'm female, gets rid of about 99% of ad hominem attacks.)

Anyway, age of consent:

If the girl is pregnant at an age when she is too young to be having sex, her parents ought to know about it. It is their job to protect the physical and emotional well-being of their children. Most of the kids who get pregnant before the age of consent have older boyfriends (as in, five to ten years older, not a 15-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy). These men encourage abortion, not for her sake, but to cover up their wrongdoing. (The Texas polygamous sect is a startling example of how the presence of children can be used to prove statutory rape.) Girls who abort are ten times as likely as their never-pregnant peers to attempt suicide.

Given that, I would argue that there is an even greater reason to ensure that parents know whether or not their under-age daughters are pregnant. Underage girls who are experiencing a crisis pregnancy need help in a way that is fundamentally different from that needed by a 16-year-old girl who wants to sleep with her steady boyfriend.

Hence, the law Idaho just passed that criminalizing forcing someone to have an abortion (and of course, there were a few legislators who claim to be pro-choice--but wouldn't vote for a woman's right to choose life).

Michigan also passed a Coercive Abortion Prevention Act. The hard-core wing of the pro-choice movement hates them, as it apparently infantilises women or some related b.s..
4.26.2008 12:57am
Steve2:
Clayton, Smokey, Chocolatelover:

For what it's worth, my opinion is this: a parent attempting to prevent their daughter from getting an abortion is committing child abuse and should be punished accordingly. A parent attempting to coerce their daughter into getting an abortion is committing child abuse and should be punished accordingly. The end. In principle, criminalization of efforts to force abortion on girls and women is a wonderful thing (I think it's a terrible choice for her to make, but she does have the right to choose carry to term, regardless of what I or her relatives think, and the law needs to defend that right). And if it doesn't get twisted into an impediment to desired abortions, then in practice it will be as well. At the same time, a parent doesn't have a right to deny their daughter an abortion she does want, which makes "parental consent" laws bogus, and makes parental notification highly suspect: what's the point of telling the parent, except to give them an opportunity to interfere?

Remember: parents don't have rights. People have rights, and because of unnecessarily high age-of-consent laws, people get stuck with their parents holding their rights in trust - sometimes (as here, when used to prevent an abortion) to their detriment.
4.26.2008 1:40am
theobromophile (www):
I think it's a terrible choice for her to make, but she does have the right to choose carry to term, regardless of what I or her relatives think, and the law needs to defend that right

See, that's where your argument falls apart. She does have that right under the Supreme Court's mangled interpretation of the Constitution (I believe the ruling was referred to as "Blackmun's abortion"), but query whether our laws ought to acknowledge that tortured, results-oriented logic.

One could just as easily argue that a parent who permits her daughter to get an abortion is committing child abuse -- against that parent's grandchild. Some of us to think that sanction for abortion amounts to forcing your beliefs on a person too young to care for herself - both the pregnant daughter and the unborn child. Everyone would recognise the right of a 40-something adult to interfere with abuse that his daughter, of any age, would mete out to his grandchild. In fact, if the parent/grandparent stepped in, we would be thankful. Were it to be the same before birth....

If you write the unborn child out of the equation, of course it's simply a matter of what she can do with her own body (and whether or not that is consistent with other parental consent laws, and the validity of such laws). If it were just her own body, though, she wouldn't be pregnant, and it wouldn't be an issue.

Remember: parents don't have rights.

Whether or not you so intend, the logical extension of what you advocate is for the government to hold the rights of minors. This is already happening - parents are told that they do not have rights over their 17-year-olds, then over their 15-year-olds; are we really surprised when the government takes a "Hand over your baby or else" approach to parenting? I'm sorry, but if I grow a baby, it is both my responsibility to care for it and my right to determine that care as best I see fit, with government interference limited to preventing abuse. Sorry. If the government wants rights over a child, the goverment can get knocked up and spend nine months with swollen ankles. If a teenager wants rights, he/she can make a motion to be legally emancipated. Otherwise, he can acquire this thing we like to call "maturity" and understand that his parents have been around the block a few more times than he has.

The entire issue comes down to this: Between the following individuals/entities, who/what is the best equipped to make decisions regarding this specific child, which are in the best interests of this specific child?
1) The parents of that child, who happened to have, ya know, parented the child in question;
2) the 15-year-old; or
3) the government.

My vote is for #1.

people get stuck with their parents holding their rights in trust - sometimes (as here, when used to prevent an abortion) to their detriment.

Why do you assume that it is to the detriment of someone to be denied an abortion? Consider that 93% of women regret their abortions, and there are six times as many post-abortive women in National Right to Life as there are in NARAL. Have you ever seen the "I regret my abortion" signs that post-abortive women hold up in front of the Supreme Cout every year?

Consider that we are talking about scared teenagers, who think that their parents will kill them, their lives will be over, and that this situation is hopeless, terrifying, and will never end. (I'm sorry; I was a very mature teenager, but I still remember what it was like. It's very, very hard for even the long-term thinkers to believe that their lives will improve.)

The parents of teenagers who get pregnant can help those girls to understand that they can keep their child, get their education, and have the life they want. If we really live in a society in which women are given the "choice" between dismembering their unborn babies - whoops, foetuses - and having an education, then we live in a screwed-up society that needs fixing... and, last time I checked, adults are in a better position to make those changes. They can also help their scared daughters to understand that the fear they feel at age 15 is not the fear that will be there for the rest of their lives - that they are not, thankfully, doomed to be age 15 forever.
4.26.2008 2:19am
Ken Arromdee:
(The Texas polygamous sect is a startling example of how the presence of children can be used to prove statutory rape.)

The Texas polygamous sect is a startling example of how bad an idea it is to inform the parents. If one of the underage girls in the compound wanted to get an abortion, and her parents were told, I can guarantee you the sect would make life hell for her.
4.26.2008 3:34am
theobromophile (www):
The Texas polygamous sect is a startling example of how bad an idea it is to inform the parents. If one of the underage girls in the compound wanted to get an abortion, and her parents were told, I can guarantee you the sect would make life hell for her.

Red herring. Age of consent laws all have judicial bypass procedures. Last time I checked, "I don't want to tell my parents because they forced me to marry a man three times my age who already has two wives" will justify the bypass.

If she's being raped, it's even more imperative for her to speak to an adult about this, not just to abort the kid and then head back to the compound for some more 50-year-old raping.
4.26.2008 4:56pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
theobromophile: Can you point me, please, to the study that reports that "93% of women regret their abortions"? That would obviously be an important data point, but I wanted to have a look at the study myself. Thanks!
4.26.2008 7:27pm
theobromophile (www):
EV - I have that info somewhere. Alas, it is finals time, and I might not be able to get it to you soon. (Would you mind receiving it via email?)

From what I understand, a lot of studies of post-abortive women (I've seen a handful of them) either get the women immediately after an abortion, in which most women are relieved, more than anything; however, as time goes on, women who were initially relieved begin to regret their decision.
4.26.2008 11:29pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Theobromophile: I'd be very glad to see the pointer by e-mail, thanks!
4.27.2008 12:14am