As of Oct. 1, minors seeking an abortion in North Carolina will first have to obtain consent from their parents or legal guardians.
The new law passed by the state General Assembly states that "a female under the age of 18 must have written consent from: a parent with custody of the minor; or a legal guardian or custodian of the minor; or a parent with whom the minor is living; or a grandparent with whom the minor has been living for at least six months immediately preceding the date of the minor's written consent."
Previously, a woman of any age could obtain an abortion without any type of consent.
Beth Ising, executive director of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League of North Carolina, questioned the government's role in legislating abortion rights and said that mandatory parental consent will put young women in a dangerous position. "The people who are introducing the law are people who want abortion illegal under any circumstances," Ising said.
H.M. Michaux Jr., D-Durham, agreed that the new law is a bad idea. "It would create some problems in North Carolina if that individual would seek unauthorized means of health care. The long-term effects of the law will drive a wedge in families." The law would create health problems that would normally not arise, he said. Some opponents of the law have said that it could drive young women, afraid to ask for parental consent, to seek illegal and dangerous abortions from unauthorized practitioners.
Many legislators, however, said they stood behind the law and its underlying philosophy.
"If children can't receive aspirin in school without parental consent, and they can't go on field trips without parental consent, then would we want them to get an abortion without parental consent? I think not," said Mike Decker, R-Walkertown and the primary sponsor of the bill. "We hope it will bring parents back in to the decision-making process." The child is acting in a mature manner when she is engaging in sexual intercourse, so going to a judge to get an abortion should not be a significant problem, Decker said.
Robin Hayes, R-Cabarrus, who also supported the law, said that it is a significant step toward restoring traditional family values and that it will encourage communication and cooperation between parents and children.
Minors who cannot gain consent from their parents or who are unwilling to tell them may petition a judge for permission to abort. Once the petition has been filed, the judge has no more than seven days in which to rule on the case. Currently, 25 other states--including California, Pennsylvania and Indiana--require parental consent for minors to obtain abortions.
The new law has come under fire from some critics who say that minors will not go to their parents for permission and will put themselves in danger as they seek other means to abort. Miller said that young women are often afraid to approach their families about abortion and that they would also be reluctant to approach a judge with such a personal issue.
"To require a minor to go to the court is a totally unrealistic view to take," said George Miller, D-Durham. "The long-term effect will be that people will turn to the least desirable avenue in their cry for help in a very critical time in their life." Currently, abortions for minors account for 10 to 15 percent of all abortions performed at A Triangle Women's Health Clinic in Chapel Hill, according to a physician there.
In Indiana in 1989, a 17-year-old high school student died of a massive septic infection because she refused to face her parents and could not approach the anti-abortion district court judge. Missouri, which enforces the same consent law, has statistics showing that while the in-state abortion rate has decreased by 13 percent, the out-of-state abortion rate increased by 32 percent. California is currently reviewing the case of American Academy of Pediatrics v. Lungren and will decide whether to lift an injunction of a statute passed in 1987 that would require parental consent for a minor's abortion.
The new law was recently applied in a Greensboro case in which a judge granted a high school girl permission to seek an abortion without parental consent. The decision came during a confidential hearing Monday and marks what is believed to be the first time the judicial system has been used to bypass the new law.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.