Gender Issues

, Volume 21, Issue 2, pp 3–39 | Cite as

Choosing abortion: Teens who make the decision without parental involvement

  • J. Shoshanna Ehrlich


In the landmark case of Bellotti v. Baird, the Supreme Court assumed both that pregnant teens lack the capacity to make the abortion decision for themselves, and that parental involvement serves as a beneficial counterweight to youthful immaturity. Since this decision, the Court has not wavered from its belief in the interconnected assumptions about teen decisional incapacity and the benefits of parental involvement, despite the growing body of literature documenting the decisional abilities of teens. Compounding this omission, the Court has also failed to consider the fact that minors possess significant medical self-consent rights, particularly when it comes to pregnancy and other sensitive medical decisions.

This article examines how these flaws compromise the integrity of the Court's position. It then presents the results of a research study on the experience of young women in Massachusetts who chose to seek judicial authorization for an abortion, rather than involve their parents. Drawing on in-depth interviews, the article allows young women to be heard within the context of their own lives. Speaking about their decision to abort, their reasons for not involving their parents, and the nature of the court experience, their voices provide a rich counter-narrative to the Court's pinched representation of adolescent reality, and enable us to see how important it is to listen to what teens have to say about their own lives, rather than simply accepting the Court's portrayal of their reality.


Young Woman Parental Involvement Unintended Pregnancy Gender Issue Future Time Perspective 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Ambuel, B. 1995. “Adolescents, Unintended Pregnancy, and Abortion: The Struggle for a Compassionate Social Policy.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 4: 1–5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ambuel, B. & Rappaport, J. 1992. “Developmental Trends in Adolescents' Psychological Competence to Consent to Abortion.” Law and Human Behavior, 16: 129–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Adolescence. 1996. “The Adolescent's Right to Confidential Care When Considering Abortion.” Pediatrics, 97: 746–51.Google Scholar
  4. American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists. 1988. ACOG Statement of Policy.Google Scholar
  5. American Public Health Association, Policy Statements, Sec. 9001. 1991. “Adolescent Access to Comprehensive, Confidential Reproductive Health Care.” American Journal of Public Health, 81: 241.Google Scholar
  6. Appleton, S. F. 1985. “Doctors, Patients, and the Constitution: A Theoretical Analysis of the Physician's Role in ‘Private’ Reproductive Decision.” Washington University Law Quarterly, 63: 183–236.Google Scholar
  7. Bellotti v. Baird. 428 U.S. 132 (1976).Google Scholar
  8. Bellotti v. Baird. 443 U.S. 622 (1979).Google Scholar
  9. Blum, R. W., Resnick, M. D., & Stark, T. A. 1990. “Factors Associated with the Use of Court Bypass by Minors to Obtain Abortions.” Family Planning Perspectives, 22: 159–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Blum, R. & Resnick, M. D. 1982. “Adolescent Decision-Making: Contraception, Pregnancy, Abortion, Motherhood.” Pediatric Annals, 11: 797–805.Google Scholar
  11. Cauffman, E. & Steinberg, L. 1995. “The Cognitive and Affective Influences on Adolescent Decision-Making.” Temple Law Review, 68: 1763–90.Google Scholar
  12. Conn. Gen. Stat. Sec. 19a–6011.Google Scholar
  13. Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs, AMA. 1993. “Mandatory Parental Consent to Abortion.” Journal of American Medicine, 269: 82–86.Google Scholar
  14. Ehrlich, J. S. 2003. “Grounded in the Reality of Their Lives: Listening to Teens Who Make the Abortion Decision without Involving Their Parents.” Berkeley Women's Law Journal, 18: 61–180.Google Scholar
  15. Ehrlich, J. S. 2003. ‘Shifting Boundaries: Abortion, Criminal Culpability, and the Indeterminate Legal Status of Adolescents.’ Wisconsin Women's Law Journal, 18: 78–116.Google Scholar
  16. Ehrlich, J. S. 2000. “Minors as Medical Decision Makers: The Pretextual Reasoning of the Court in the Abortion Cases.” Michigan Journal of Gender & Law, 7: 65–106.Google Scholar
  17. Fried, C. S. & Reppucci, N. D. 2001. “Criminal Decision Making: The Development of Adolescent Judgment, Criminal Responsibility, and Culpability.” Law and Human Behavior, 25: 45–61, 46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Gilligan, C., Ward, J. V. & Taylor, J. M. 1988. Remapping the Moral Domain. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  19. Gittler, J., Quigley-Rick, M. & Saks, M. J. 1990. Adolescent Health Care Decision Making: The Law and Public Policy, 2, The Carnegie Council On Adolescent Development (Working Paper).Google Scholar
  20. Griffin-Carlson, M. S. & Mackin, K. J. 1993. “Parental Consent: Factors Influencing Adolescent Disclosure Regarding Abortion.” Adolescence, 28: 1–11.Google Scholar
  21. Harris v. McRae, 448 U.S. 297 (1977).Google Scholar
  22. Henshaw, S. K. 1998. “Unintended Pregnancy in the United States.” Family Planning Perspectives, Available: Scholar
  23. Henshaw, S. K. & Kost, K. 1992. “Parental Involvement in Minors' Abortion Decisions.” Family Planning Perspectives, 23: 198–213.Google Scholar
  24. Hodgson v. Minnesota 497 U.S. 417 (1990).Google Scholar
  25. Holder, A. R. 1988. “Disclosure and Consent Problems in Pediatrics.” Law, Medicine, & Health Care, 16: 219–38.Google Scholar
  26. Holder, A. R. 1985. Legal Issues in Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  27. Jaccard, J., Dittus, P. J. & Gordon, V. V. 2000. “Parent-Teen Communication about Premarital Sex: Factors Associated with the Extent of Communication.” Journal of Adolescent Research, 15: 187–208.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jaccard, J., Dittus, P. J., & Gordon, V. V. 1998. “Parent-Adolescent Congruency in Reports of Adolescent Sexual Behavior and in Communications about Sexual Behavior.” Child Development, 69: 247–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Katz, S. N., Schroeder, W. A. & Sidman, L. R. 1971. “Emancipating Our Children—Coming of Legal Age in America.” Family Law Quarterly 7: 211–41.Google Scholar
  30. King, B. M. & Lorusso, J. 1997. “Discussions in the Home About Sex: Different Recollections by Parents and Children.” Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy 23: 52–60.Google Scholar
  31. Lewis, C. C. 1987. “Minors' Competence to Consent to Abortion.” American Psychologist, 42: 84–88, 86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lewis, C. C. 1980. “A Comparison of Minors' and Adults' Pregnancy Decisions.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 50: 446–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Luker, K. 1996. Dubious Conceptions: The Politics of Teen Pregnancy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press: 154.Google Scholar
  34. McManus, O. 1986. “May I, Judge?” Boston Globe Magazine, 15 January: p. 14.Google Scholar
  35. Miller, K. S., Kotchick, B. A., Dorsey, S., Forehand, R., & Ham, A. Y. 1998. “Family Communication About Sex: What Are Parents Saying and Are Their Adolescents Listening?” Family Planning Perspectives, 30: 218–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Mlyniec, W. J. 1996. “A Judge's Ethical Dilemma: Assessing a Child's Capacity to Choose.” Fordham Law Review, 64: 1873–1916.Google Scholar
  37. Morrissey, J. M., Hofmann, A. D., & Thrope, J. C. 1986. Consent and Confidentiality in the Health Care of Children and Adolescents: A Legal Guide. New York, The Free Press: 41.Google Scholar
  38. Parental Notice Laws—Their Catastrophic Impact On Teenagers' Right To Abortion. 1986. New York, NY: ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, p. 3.Google Scholar
  39. Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, 677 N.E. 2d 101 (1997).Google Scholar
  40. Planned Parenthood of South Eastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833, 877 (1992).Google Scholar
  41. Reddy, D. M., Fleming, R. & Swain, C. 2002. “Effect of Mandatory Parental Notification on Adolescent Girls' Use of Sexual Health Care Services” Journal of American Medicine, 288: 710–14.Google Scholar
  42. Resnick, M. D., Bearinger, L. H., Stark, P. & Blum, R. W. 1994. “Patterns of Consultation among Adolescent Minors Obtaining an Abortion.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 62: 310–16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973).Google Scholar
  44. Sanger, C. & Williamson, E. 1992. “Minor Changes: Emancipating Minors in Modern Times.” University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform 25: 239–354.Google Scholar
  45. Scarnecchia, S. & Field, J. K. 1995. “Judging Girls: Decision Making in Parental Consent to Abortion Cases.” Michigan Journal of Gender & Law, 3: 75.Google Scholar
  46. Schonert-Reichl, K. A. & Muller, J. R. 1993. “Correlates of Help-Seeking in Adolescence.” Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 25: 705–732.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Siegal, R. 1992. “Reasoning from the Body: A Historical Perspective on Abortion Regulation and Questions of Equal Protection.” Stanford Law Review 44: 261–381.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Society for Adolescent Medicine. 1991. “Position Statements on Reproductive Health Care for Adolescents.” Journal of Adolescent Health, 12: 657–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Steinberg, L. & Caufmann, E. 1996. “Maturity of Judgment in Adolescence: Psychosocial Factors in Adolescent Decision Making.” Law and Human Behavior, 20: 249–72, 263.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Thrall, J. S., McCloskey, L., Ettner, S. L., Rothman, E., Tighte, J. E. & Emans, S. J. 2000. “Confidentiality and Adolescents' Use of Providers for Health Information and Pelvic Examinations.” Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 54: 885–92.Google Scholar
  51. Torres, A., Forrest, J. D., & Eisman, S. 1980. “Telling Parents: Clinic Policies and Adolescents Use of Family Planning and Abortion Services.” Family Planning Perspectives 12: 282–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Weinmann, L. L. & Newcombe, N. 1990. “Relational Aspects of Identity: Late Adolescents' Perceptions of Their Relationships with Parents.” Journal of Child Psychology, 50: 357–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Weithorn, L. A. & Campbell, S. B. 1982. “The Competency of Children and Adolescents to Make Informed Treatment Decisions.” Child Development, 53: 1588–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Whitaker, D. J. and Miller, K. S. 2000. “Parent-Adolescent Discussions About Sex and Condoms: Impact on Peer Influences of Social Risk Behavior.” Journal of Adolescent Research, 15: 251–73.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Zabin, L. S., Hirsch, M. B., Emerson, M. R. & Raymond, E. 1992. “To Whom Do Inner-City Minors Talk About Their Pregnancies? Adolescents' Communication With Parents and Parent Surrogates,” Family Planning Perspectives, 24: 148–54.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Transaction Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. Shoshanna Ehrlich
    • 1
  1. 1.College of Public and Community ServiceUniversity of MassachusettsBoston

Personalised recommendations