Anti-abortion advocates, feeling momentum after the reversal of Roe v. Wade, have introduced a series of bills with a common goal this legislative session: requiring minors who seek abortions in Connecticut to notify their parents.
At least three bills referred to the legislature’s Public Health Committee would mandate that minors notify their parents when pursuing an abortion. Supporters hope to see at least a public hearing this year on the proposals.
“Things take time,” said Rep. Mark Anderson, R-Granby, who helped author two of the bills. “We need the public to get excited about it… that’s the only way change happens. It takes grassroots organizing.”
Two of the measures would require parental notification for abortions; a third would do the same but also require minors to notify their parents when seeking mental health services and other types of medical care, such as testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, treatment for drug or alcohol addiction, and obtaining non-permanent birth control.
Proponents of the bills see it as a parental rights issue.
“Going to over 15,000 different doors over the course of the last four years, people are really expressing their concerns about the erosion of parental rights,” said Rep. Brian Lanoue, R-Griswold, who introduced one of the proposals. “Parents I’ve talked to — they’re very concerned. They want to know what’s going on with their minor children, and they want to make sure they know what’s being done to their children. I think it’s a very common-sense, straightforward proposal.”
The concept has been raised unsuccessfully in previous years, though some advocates feel fresh enthusiasm after Roe v. Wade was overturned.
Thirty-six states require parental involvement in a minor’s decision to have an abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights. Nine states require parental notification (with one mandating the notification of both parents), 21 require the consent of a parent (with three mandating the consent of both parents), and six require both consent and notification.
“What we’re asking for is a public hearing on parental notification,” said Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the Family Institute of Connecticut. “This is an issue that should be fully aired at the legislature. … I hope we’ll look at this with fresh eyes and say, regardless of whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice, this is an issue that deserves a hearing.”
“The overturning of Roe v. Wade — this is what we’ve worked on for 49 years. But we’ve still got a hill to climb,” he said. “It took us 49 years to climb to the top of the Roe v. Wade hill. And we’re going to climb all the hills, including parental notification in Connecticut.”
Leaders of the Public Health Committee have signaled, however, that the issue is unlikely to be successful this year. Many Democrats campaigned on a promise last year to preserve abortion rights in Connecticut, including Gov. Ned Lamont and legislative leaders.
“We appreciate every legislator when they propose a bill; it is their right. But as a co-chair of Public Health Committee, I do not support this concept,” said Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor. “It is well recognized and studied that it would be harmful for the person involved. I know there are a few legislators who feel passionately about this, but I do not see the leadership or the committee too enthusiastic to push [forward] any bill like this.”
“I don’t anticipate at all that we are going to be hearing a parental notification bill,” added Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, D-Fairfield, the committee co-chair. “When it comes to reproductive rights, our goal as a state has been on a bipartisan basis to assure that the people of this state have safe access to reproductive health and to abortion.”
Parental notification laws vary by state. Some states require identification for parental consent. Others ask for proof of parenthood. Most of the 35 states with these laws allow for judicial bypass, which permits a minor to obtain approval from a court. Some states provide exceptions under certain circumstances, such as a medical emergency, rape or incest.
The bills drafted in Connecticut would allow for judicial bypass.
Opponents of parental notification say the requirement would cause harm to minors.
In a post on its website, the American Civil Liberties Union noted that, “most teens who do not involve a parent have very good reasons for not doing so.”
“Many come from families where such an announcement would only exacerbate an already volatile or dysfunctional family situation,” officials from the organization wrote. “Experience shows that teens’ fears are well-founded. For example, one of the very first teens who was forced to notify a parent under Colorado’s parental notice law was kicked out of her home when her mother learned of the pregnancy.”
Advocates for Youth, an organization that advocates for abortion and contraception access and reproductive justice, among other issues, noted that parental involvement laws disproportionately affect minors from immigrant families.
“[Some] states require parents and youth to provide government-issued identification either at the provider or to obtain notarized consent documentation,” officials wrote on their website. “This poses a barrier to immigrant youth with undocumented parents who fear immigration enforcement as well as to youth who are unaccompanied or whose parents have been detained or deported.”
Liz Gustafson, state director of Pro-Choice Connecticut, said most young people voluntarily tell their parents or guardian about an unplanned pregnancy.
“The small minority of young people who cannot, or choose not to, do so for reasons rooted in their own safety and wellbeing,” she said. “When a young person can’t go to a parent or guardian and there is a parental involvement law in their state, they are less likely to go to a health care provider, get the information and resources they need and the care and support they need.”
Even if the concept were to be raised later in the legislative session by amendment or some other strategy, House Speaker Matthew Ritter said it would not get a vote in the House. All three proposals are House bills.
“Any bill that would weaken reproductive rights will not ever be called in the House of Representatives,” he said. “The problem with the argument of parental notification is that it assumes a lot of things that aren’t always accurate in people’s lives. Not everybody has the same relationships; families are not all going to be the same. And so you have to take into account those differences.”
Backers of the legislation acknowledged that the proposals have a hard road ahead with slim odds of passage.
Still, Anderson said, “We’re trying to get a dialogue going.”