Dr. Katharine White
Obstetrician-gynecologist who practices at Boston Medical Center; Braintree resident
As an OB/GYN, I want my patients to receive the care they need, want, and deserve without delay. In my 20 years of practice, I’ve seen many teens with unexpected pregnancies. For those not able to parent, abortion may be the best option. Most teens do talk to their parents when they become pregnant and do discuss the decision to have an abortion. Those girls who don’t tell their parents have good reasons: They are not safe at home, are victims of violence or incest, or may be kicked out of their homes.
There’s no evidence that mandating parental consent against a teen’s wishes improves her outcomes or leads to better familial communication — in fact, there is evidence it increases the risk of medical and psychological harm to the teen.
The only way for a Massachusetts teen to get an abortion without getting parental consent is to obtain judicial consent. Navigating this process is difficult for even the savviest teen. However my experience is that nearly all judicial bypass requests are granted by the court. The bypass is therefore an unnecessary barrier to accessing care. This extra step delays the abortion until further in pregnancy, increasing the procedure’s risks.
Abortion is the only reproductive health care decision that a teen cannot make on her own. People under 18 can consent to sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, prenatal care services and decisions related to childbirth, but not abortion care. Incredibly, if the young woman carries the pregnancy to term, she will then be responsible for all health decisions for her child but still cannot consent to have an abortion if she becomes pregnant again.
Even more than the medical care I provide, I take pride in the conversations I have with my patients, where I help them choose the best way forward based on their values. Well-intentioned mandatory parental consent interferes with my relationship with my patient and prevents me from having a dialogue that helps her decide what is best for her. I strongly agree with the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics that mandated parental involvement laws are not in the best interests of my patients.
Resides in Weymouth where he is a former three-term city councilor; executive board member of Massachusetts Citizens for Life
As parents of three young girls, my wife and I know the health, safety, and well-being of our daughters are the driving factors for our parenting decisions. This desire to care for one’s children transcends political, religious, cultural, and economic divides — it’s universal.
Why? Because every human being knows these young women are our future. To that end, decisions made about our children’s health have repercussions not only for them, but for civil society at large—even if only because those decisions impact health care costs and premiums. More importantly, these young women are tomorrow’s scientists, mothers, artists, and leaders; their healthy physical development matters greatly.
For these reasons, the Commonwealth’s requirement of parental consent for an abortion ought to be strengthened to ensure that young women are not preyed upon by an industry that earns profit at the expense of the health, well-being, and safety of young women.
Parental involvement is the key to a child’s strong health. That’s why even the most basic procedures require consent. Implanting ear tubes, removing of tonsils or an appendix, and even dispensing basic, over-the-counter remedies like Tylenol or Advil all require express consent by a parent or guardian. It’s more than common sense, it’s safety.
The whole picture of a young woman’s health is absolutely critical for parents when collaborating with physicians, especially in the event of an emergency.
Imagine a medical scenario in which a girl can’t communicate and every minute matters. Medics ask: Has she experienced any pain recently? Does she take any medication? Has she recently suffered any kind of trauma? Parents have the responsibility and right to know the entire medical history of their daughter’s health—it’s vital to her safety.
What would a repeal of the existing parental consent law that’s been on the books for decades truly promote? Not empowerment. A repeal would push young women to make hasty decisions out of fear. A repeal would enable abortion providers to profit on those fears instead of forcing a difficult, emotional, and natural conversation about a major life decision. Kids, deep down, want to come to us with everything. If they don’t, we aren’t really parenting.
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