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September 24, 2005

Abortions, Tattoos, and the Futures of Girls

By Neil the Ethical Werewolf

Defenders of parental consent laws often compare abortion to tattooing, ear piercing, or any of the medical procedures for which many states require parental consent. They claim that if we require parental consent for a girl to get a tattoo, we should also require parental consent for an abortion. What I’m going to show here is that our reasons for requiring parental consent for tattoos are absent in the case of abortion. If you believe that an adult woman has a right to an abortion, you should believe that a teenage girl has that right as well, even if her parents say otherwise.

Tattoos are very difficult to undo. They also have the potential to make life harder for children when they become adults. So to make sure that children don’t burden themselves for life by tattooing song lyrics on their foreheads, we require them to get parental approval first. Given the occasional irrationality of children, we’re right to restrict actions that would deny them future opportunities. The whole point of parental consent laws is to make sure kids don't irrationally impose terrible constraints on their futures.

With abortion, the constraints work exactly the opposite way. Bearing a child is the choice that heavily constrains a girl’s future opportunities. Once she becomes a single mother, her prospects for education, employment, and marriage become much worse. But if she has an abortion, she can always choose to become a mother at some future time. All doors remain open to her.

If you see a girl as a piece of property owned by her parents, the comparison with tattoos seems to work in favor of parental consent laws. An abortion is widely regarded as a more significant change to one’s teenage human property than a tattoo. But when you regard the girl in the way you should – with attention focused on her well-being over the half-century or more that is her future – you can see how the comparison with tattoos actually supports allowing her to make her own choices regardless of what her parents say.

Of course, if some combination of philosophical confusion and scientific ignorance has convinced you that a first-trimester fetus has moral status approaching that of a human being, this argument won’t convince you. You’ll want to restrict abortion in whatever way you can. But polls show that a majority of people describe themselves as pro-choice, while a larger majority support parental consent laws. If you count yourself among both majorities, this argument is for you.

September 24, 2005 in Politics of Choice | Permalink

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Comments

Ezra, I have to take issue with this rather glib syllogism. First, let me say that I am totally opposed to parental consent laws as they apply to abortion and favor free access to contraceptive and abortion services for all women regardless of their age. But second, I'm also the mother of two young children and I just had this argument with a very serious anti-choice relative. In fact the reason that people like that think we have laws relating to tatoos etc...is based on completely different propositions. As parents we demand information on the medical procedures given to our children--right down to whether they are given asprin or benadryl in school--along with numerous other things that affect their health and wellbeing generally. We demand, and expect, to be given information on all these things as well as tattoos because our children are considered, as minors, too young to fully represent their own interests--or even know their own interests--when requesting medical or other interventions. For conservative parents the issue isn't whether the child is being prevented from doing something that is "lasting" in its impact--and they would argue cheerfully that choosing abortion is a lasting impact, not the staving off of a lasting impact --but whether a child and a non family member (school nurse, tatooist, abortion provider) should be able to make a decision in re the child's physical being absent parental input.

That is what people are arguing about, and that is why the arguments are (even for staunchly pro-choice mothers like myself) very hard to dispose of easily.

Posted by: aimai | Sep 24, 2005 8:16:06 AM

We demand, and expect, to be given information on all these things as well as tattoos because our children are considered, as minors, too young to fully represent their own interests--or even know their own interests--when requesting medical or other interventions.

This poster is dead right. There can be only one captain, one decision maker. Parents are charged with the well-being of their children. Let them do their job. Stop trying to do an end-run around that charge.

Those, like Neil, argue a hollow point for political purposes.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Sep 24, 2005 9:12:32 AM

Neil (maybe you should put your name in bold?), that's a neat argument, though I wonder how far you'd want to stretch the analogy. If we treat having a child as like getting a tattoo, then you might want parents to give consent before a teenager may bring a child to term. Without such consent, you might insist, the teenager must get an abortion, for her future self's sake. But this conclusion doesn't seem very appealing. I guess you'd say there are relevant differences that prevent us from pushing the analogy all the way? But this might undermine your original argument then.

Moreover, if abortion can be emotionally scarring (as it surely can), then it seems like the sort of decision which might (potentially) "come back to haunt" the teenager later in life. So this would seem to provide grounds for requiring parental consent, as an extra safeguard to ensure that the teenager doesn't make a rash decision. I don't think there's anything in your argument which addresses this concern.

Finally, all this ignores the possibility of adoption, which would seem to make abortion less necessary for protecting "future opportunities".

Posted by: Richard | Sep 24, 2005 9:19:01 AM

That's not the reason for parental consent laws. Parental consent laws are to guarantee that a minor child has an adult advocate in making this decision, because as a society we consider minors to be incapable of making medical decisions for themselves.

I'm pro-choice, but I have never understood the hard-core opposition to parental notification. Now that I'm a parent, I understand it even less.

We act as if young girls are getting the money, scheduling the appointment, hopping on a bus and making this decision independent of adult input. I'm sure that often is not the case. Adult boyfriends or other people who may or may not have the best interests of the pregnant girl are involved in a lot of these cases, because minor children generally do not have access to all of the resources necessary to attain an abortion.

The default assumption in a society is that the parent is the advocate for a minor child, and that is the reason for consent in medical matters. Your argument doesn't address that for this one instance we assume that parents are the de facto enemies of their daughters. That is the implication that disturbs me, and it's never been answered to my satisfaction.

Posted by: Magenta | Sep 24, 2005 10:38:01 AM

You act like an abortion is some kind of liberating, introducing a girl to womanhood type of event. Just as natural as her first period.

"Bearing a child is the choice that heavily constrains a girl’s future opportunities."

You ever hear of adoption? The waiting list is two years long. What do you think would weigh more on a young lady's conscience, giving up a baby to a financially comfortable, loving family or killing the baby? And don't tell me the girls that have abortions don't have regrets, the woman who wanted the abortion in the Roe case has since argued to have Roe overturned and says she has regrets to this day, not just cuz her case has led to over 40 million abortions, but over her own decision to have an abortion.

Say someone wants to tell your child a Bible story, should the parents be notified and have to give their consent? I will assume you say yes.

Posted by: Captain Toke | Sep 24, 2005 10:41:58 AM

Magenta,

My SIL who is a republican made the same argument, essentially saying "kids are often embarrassed to tell their parents anything...let alone that they are pregnant...so that is why I should be notified..." But of course the facts are these:

minor children can't get any kind of medical care very easily, let alone abortions.
minor child with boyfriend paying for abortion? even less likely with any reputable doctor that the child wouldn't receive counseling.
I believe minor children have to go before a judge to get permisson to have an abortion *in the absence* of a parental consent so that the law affects primarily
minor girls whose parents are out of the loop already, and who have gone before a judge to get permission (so already have someone standing in a guardianship relation).
Where a child is truly too embarrassed to tell her parent, and the parent is too clueless to know that her child is pregnant, that child will no doubt go for an illegal abortion if she can find it. And those are the most dangerous kind of all. In fact, I believe that is what happened to Becky Bell--and if there are any right wing trolls here don't bother to tell me that she died of pneumonia or any other crap, I'm old enough that women my mother's age have told me of relatives who died from illegal abortions.

so parental consent laws are not a cure all and may do more harm than good.

aimai

ps. as for "adoption being an option" not if the health or mental health of the child is at risk. and not if she is non white or the father is non white. No child of mine should be forced to bear children so some overaged infertile white couple can have their dream kid.
aimai

Posted by: aimai | Sep 24, 2005 10:56:41 AM

"No child of mine should be forced to bear children so some overaged infertile white couple can have their dream kid."

What a hateful, bitter, envious group you liberals are. Why did you write "infertile white couple"?

No one forces adoptions(in America anyway).

The fact is most liberals and Democrats are selfish, self centered people. What ever happened to accountability for ones actions? I know there are exceptions, but the fact is most abortions are cuz people don't want to be bothered with a child. Babies get in the way of good times.


Posted by: Captain Toke | Sep 24, 2005 11:06:29 AM

In my mind, the reasons against parental consent laws are two-fold. First, there's the simple argument that if someone can't be trusted with the decision not to have a child, it seems wrong that they could be trusted with the decision to have a child.

The second reasons is the fundamentally pragmatic reason. Most abortion providers will ask teens seeking abortions whether they have talked to their parents and others about the decision. If the young woman hasn't, she typically has a good reason for that decision, like a fear of being beaten or kicked out of her house if she talks to her parents about the abortion.

There are many pro-life legislators of conscience who oppose parental consent measures because of the consequences.

Posted by: Matt Singer | Sep 24, 2005 11:29:21 AM

I hesitate to respond to cranks like "Captain Toke." (Is that name supposed to be ironic? Toking is usually the province of us selfish self-centered lefties, isn't it?)

Anyway, in your first post you said:

You ever hear of adoption? The waiting list is two years long. What do you think would weigh more on a young lady's conscience, giving up a baby to a financially comfortable, loving family or killing the baby?

You've missed the point. Neil's post was pitched at people who know the difference between a fetus and a baby. If that distinction is lost on you, the rest of the argument will not go through, and he was not talking to you. So please feel free to take your abusive rhetoric elsewhere.

Posted by: YMSP82 | Sep 24, 2005 11:49:22 AM

"So please feel free to take your abusive rhetoric elsewhere."

Typical lib response, you can't address the argument so you try to get rid of argument.

Sometimes I feel like a conservative speaker on a liberal campus.

Why is toking selfish?

I still would like to know why aimai wrote "infertile white couple". Is she a racist?

Posted by: Captain Toke | Sep 24, 2005 12:11:02 PM

Some women regret having abortions as teenagers, some women regret giving children up for adoption as teenagers, and some women regret having children as teenagers. Other women have made these choices and are perfectly happy with them, so let's not get caught up assuming that every choice for a pregnant teen is bad, or that one is clearly better than the other for the majority of teens. I know that as a teenager, if I'd gotten pregnant, I would have wanted an abortion. Teenage girls, while they do a lot of moronic things, aren't complete morons, and while they may regret whatever they choose later in life, it seems like a decision too personal even for her parents to have the final say in. After all, I imagine getting pregnant is about as big a crash-course in becoming an adult as someone can have - it seems like a much less arbitrary time to decide that a girl has become a woman than her eighteenth birthday.

Posted by: Sara | Sep 24, 2005 1:40:02 PM

"it seems like a decision too personal even for her parents to have the final say in."

So teenagers should have the final say in all of the most profound decisions in his or he life?!? Drug use? Suicide? Driving drunk?

What a fool!

Parents are supposed to guide their children, to help them along so that when they become adults they can do the right things. Look at the inner cities where kids don't have guidence. Teenage crime is rampant, so are teenage abortions!

Posted by: Captain Toke | Sep 24, 2005 2:06:28 PM

Richard says:
If we treat having a child as like getting a tattoo, then you might want parents to give consent before a teenager may bring a child to term. Without such consent, you might insist, the teenager must get an abortion, for her future self's sake. But this conclusion doesn't seem very appealing.

It depends on the normative strength of the premise that you use to justify parental consent requirements in the tattoo case. Is it:

1. When some course of action would close off many of a girl's future opportunities, we have some reason to require parental consent for it.
or
1a. When some course of action would close off many of a girl's future opportunities, we must require parental consent for it.

1 seems much more reasonable to me. If other reasons tilt the balance, we need not require parental consent. In the case of childbearing, such counterweighing reasons exist. There really isn't much we can do to stop a girl from giving birth without her parents' consent. (Tranquilize her and abort the fetus while she's conked out? Put her in jail, apart from her baby, if she gives birth?) Given the huge implementation problems associated with mandating parental consent for childbearing, we have reason not to make such a requirement.

I want to also second aimai's point that minority babies and babies with any mental/physical defects are unlikely to be adopted. This is the explanation of the racial reference in her post, and it's due to a wanton misreading that our resident troll didn't understand it.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Sep 24, 2005 3:02:27 PM

Now to aimai's first post, which (of course) I agreed with less:

but whether a child and a non family member (school nurse, tatooist, abortion provider) should be able to make a decision in re the child's physical being absent parental input.

Nobody is saying that girls having abortions without parental input and agreement is a good thing. In the vast majority of situations, I'd want the girl's parents to know what's going on, and to agree with her in making the decision. The only situations in which I don't want parents being notified are the abusive parent cases, which Yglesias describes. Of course, my argument isn't against parental notification laws, but parental consent laws. (There may be some issues of how we can possibly implement a parental notification law that doesn't assume parental consent. But I'll leave those aside for the time being.)

Given a situation where a girl firmly wants to have an abortion, and her anti-abortion parents firmly don't want her to have an abortion, what's the right way for things to go? Maybe, as aimai suggests, my view will change when I have children of my own. But right now I'm entirely on the girl's side of the issue. Certainly, the decision will make a big difference in her parents' lives. But it's way smaller than the difference it'll make in hers.

(where I say 'wanton misreading' in the above post, I should've said 'lack of interpretive charity')

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Sep 24, 2005 3:22:24 PM

Any parent who would force their teenage daughter to carry a child to term when she didn't want to should be immediately relieved of their custody of said daughter.

Parental consent laws are pointless and they only impose a burden on young girls. Either the parents will say yes anyway, or they'll say no in which case they are unfit parents.

Posted by: Dadahead | Sep 24, 2005 3:42:37 PM

So teenagers should have the final say in all of the most profound decisions in his or he life?!? Drug use? Suicide? Driving drunk?

Of course not. Drug use should be suppressed by the iron fist of the government, Captain Toke.

And your choices of "similar" decisions is interesting, since two of them are illegal irrespective of age, and suicide is unfortunately something that the indvidual has final say in. Or are you proposing a parental consent law for teen suicide? That would sure get your anti-choice allies' panties in a twist.

But then again, at least you've compared abortion to actions that are completely criminal for all age groups in this country, so we can confirm what agenda you're really pushing with your parental consent advocacy.

Posted by: mds | Sep 24, 2005 3:55:57 PM

This strikes me as a pretty weak argument. I think having an abortion will affect most girls much more profoundly than getting a tattoo. The compelling argument for me is that, unfortunately, a lot of families aren't supportive of their children (I've worked a lot in the child abuse/neglect field, so I know what I'm talking about). The extreme case, of course, is when the father (or stepfather) has impregnated the girl (happens more often than most people realize). In most cases, girls discuss the decision with their parents; if a girl doesn't want to do this, I'm quite willing to believe that she probably has very good reasons for her reluctance.

Posted by: Rebecca Allen, PhD | Sep 24, 2005 4:20:08 PM

Depending on the nature of the tattoo, an abortion probably often affects them much LESS, actually.

For instance, what do you think would do more damage to a girl's life: an abortion at 13, having a child at 13, or having a swastika tattooed on her forehead?

I think these are arranged in increasing order of potential long-term damage.

Most girls who have abortions at 13 (or 15, etc.) probably barely remember it when they're 30. I'm quite certain that the vast majority are not still "profoundly affected" - though they probably are quite glad.

http://www.imnotsorry.net/

Posted by: Dadahead | Sep 24, 2005 5:00:03 PM

"I want to also second aimai's point that minority babies and babies with any mental/physical defects are unlikely to be adopted. This is the explanation of the racial reference in her post, and it's due to a wanton misreading that our resident troll didn't understand it."

WRONG!

"Actually, there are enough couples wanting these babies, but, sadly, they frequently aren’t adopted. Reasons include unwillingness of the natural mother to release the child, unrealistically high standards for minority parents to meet in order to qualify, and unwillingness of agencies to allow white parents to adopt them. E. Lee, "White Couples’ Obstacles to Adopt Nonwhites," Wall Street Journal, Feb. 27, 1987

Why don't you let her answer for herself?

"And your choices of "similar" decisions is interesting, since two of them are illegal irrespective of age, and suicide is unfortunately something that the indvidual has final say in."

Abortions by a minor without parental notification or parental consent is illegal in thirty two states.

Posted by: Captain Toke | Sep 24, 2005 5:07:10 PM

I think having an abortion will affect most girls much more profoundly than getting a tattoo.

That's right, but not having an abortion will affect them far more profoundly than having one. That's what my argument depends on.

Oh. That's right, dadahead.

Posted by: Neil the Ethical Werewolf | Sep 24, 2005 5:07:17 PM

Neil the ethical werewolf:

I didn't argue that having children would change your perspective, in fact having children hasn't changed mine. I have two daughters and I oppose parental notification laws. I support my daughters' right to determine when and how they become parents, without reservations and I support the right of other women to make their decisions without interference from me, the state, or anyone else. I did make the point my SIL made to me, and wanted to show that there are many ways of viewing the debate aside from the one first stated in the original essay which I thought was ezra's but see from the comments was yours.

As for Captain Toke, there is no point responding to such a virulent troll. But I think its worth pointing out that I am the aunt of two adopted non-white children, the aunt of an in-vitro fertilization child, and the prospective aunt of an older white child adopted through the DHS. I am also, of course, a liberal. I don't regard having children as a "punishment" that should/must be meted out for people having sex. I view a pregnancy as a sometimes unintended or unfortunate consequence of a sex act. Whether it is a blessing or a curse depends entirely on the outlook of the prospective parents and their rights are not, and should not be, conditional on the hypothetical desires of other potential parents who, after the fact, are given the right to refuse acceptance of the potential child.

For example, say I was pregnant with a horribly handicapped fetus and some virtuous family told me they'd adopt the child if I brought it to term. There is no guarantee that they wouldn't renege on that bargain after the birth. In fact, looking at the stats on people actually adopting special needs children, the chances are very low that they would adopt that child. And the same (despite heartrending articles in the wall street journal, goes for non-white and specifically african american children). And in the event that I die in childbirth, as still happens, is that hypothetical infertile couple going to raise my other children? going to care for my husband?

Trolls like you imagine that the abortion "debate" is all about punishing little girls for having sex before marriage. Its not, its about punishing all sexually active women, whether married or not, for desiring to have sex without producing a baby. If you aren't out there supporting planned parenthood and its contraceptive programs, demanding better sex education for children so they won't grow up to be ignorant trolls, if you personally aren't adopting cross-racially, across age groups, across all the social lines (yes, even adopting *gasp* a liberal child) please don't lecture the rest of us on what and how we should think.

aimai

Posted by: aimai | Sep 24, 2005 5:36:10 PM

Abortions by a minor without parental notification or parental consent is illegal in thirty two states.

Sexual activity by minors are illegal as well and that (and lack of family guidance) is what put them in this situation in the first place.

Posted by: Fred Jones | Sep 24, 2005 5:42:46 PM

Abortions by a minor without parental notification or parental consent is illegal in thirty two states.

And again, you compared abortion to drug use and drunk driving, which are illegal irrespective of age in fifty states.

At least you've compared abortion to actions that are completely criminal for all age groups in this country, so we can confirm what agenda you're really pushing with your parental consent advocacy.

Posted by: mds | Sep 24, 2005 5:46:57 PM

Alcohol is a drug you dolt!

Posted by: Captain Toke | Sep 24, 2005 5:58:59 PM

Captain Toke, you are mistaken, Norma McCorvey (of Roe vrs Wade fame) didn't have an abortion, her child was born before the Supreme Court ruled in her favor.

Posted by: James B. Shearer | Sep 24, 2005 6:04:25 PM

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