Editor’s Note: Peggy Drexler is a research psychologist, documentary producer and the author of “Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family” and “Raising Boys Without Men.” As a documentarian, she most recently executive produced “My Name is Pauli Murray,” a film that premiered at Sundance, won a Peabody award, and is now streaming on Amazon Prime Video. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers. View more opinion on CNN.
After determining a pregnant Florida teen wasn’t “mature” enough to make a decision for herself, a state court denied her a waiver to get an abortion without legal guardian notification and consent. It’s among the first of what are sure to be many such obstacles facing women and girls in a post-Roe world: purely subjective judgment on who is “qualified” to make choices regarding their own bodies, health and futures – and who is not.
In her petition to the court to waive the requirements that she obtain parental or guardian consent, the minor stated that she isn’t ready to have a baby, doesn’t have a job, is still in school and that the father is unable to support her, according to a judge. Shortly before she decided to seek an abortion, she also “experienced renewed trauma (the death of a friend),” the judge wrote.
This reasoning sounds fairly mature, and also entirely legitimate. She’s able to identify her limitations and consider the consequences of being forced to carry the pregnancy to term. She’s able to articulate how her life would change if she were made to have a baby and how financial constraints would impact the baby’s life. She may need to drop out of school. She will likely need to put her dreams on hold in order to find a job that can pay for the expenses of having a child.
And what consequences will the father face? Aside from paying child support – which is hardly guaranteed – none, it seems.
Women’s health, and their lives, are now a matter of politics. But Republicans, who are in many states moving forward with abortion bans and restrictions, can’t have it both ways. They can’t determine a minor to be too immature to decide an abortion is the right decision, yet mature enough to endure childbirth and potentially become a parent – and perhaps a single one.
And, really, what good comes of forcing her to? If the point is to care for the welfare of the unborn, then consider the welfare of the unborn once they are born. This child is likely to be born to a teenager who can’t afford it, doesn’t want it and will struggle because of it. That’s no life for either of these beings.
Beyond that, the restrictions on people seeking abortions is a punishment levied directly on women and girls. After all, the man or boy involved will not have to bear the same consequences, either physically or financially or socially. Are we saving one potential life to ruin another – with no thought to quality of life for either?
From a purely economic standpoint, forcing children – or any woman who feels she’s not ready – to have children makes little sense, and even less so in the context of Republican values. Even if some women forced to have children can make it work emotionally and financially, many won’t be able to, and that will leave the rest of us to provide assistance either to young mothers or to the mass of babies given up for adoption. Otherwise, they will all suffer.
As the comedian George Carlin once put it, “These conservatives are all in favor of the unborn, they will do anything for the unborn, but once you’re born, you’re on your own. … No neonatal care, no day care, no head start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing. If you’re pre-born, you’re fine. If you’re preschool, you’re f*****.”
And, of course, while teenagers, like this 16-year-old, are still children who need guidance, they are old enough to know what they can handle. As such, we have to listen to them – and it’s to our detriment if we don’t.
According to psychologist Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, adolescents from the age of 12 to 18 are searching for a sense of self and identity through an exploration of personal values, beliefs and goals. It is a time for questioning, not knowing. They’re still asking who they are. They are not mature enough to have a child – much less forced to by the state or a parent figure. To raise a child before undergoing this stage of development undermines the process that Erikson says is necessary for maturity.
Florida is one of six states that requires parental notification and consent before a minor can get an abortion. An underage teen can get around the requirement in Florida by asking for a waiver, which this one, who is “parentless” and living with a relative, did. But the state requires that a court consider factors such as the minor’s age, maturity, “overall intelligence,” “credibility and demeanor as a witness” and more.
These determinations are arbitrary, and parental consent shouldn’t be an impediment. A parent’s role in counseling their child on whether to get an abortion may be important. But considering the long term emotional, physical, and social implications of carrying a fetus to term, it should not be necessary for a parent to weigh in. The stakes are just too high and requiring a guardian’s consent assumes that all parents are looking out for the best interests of their child, which just isn’t always the case. Laws about what teenagers can and cannot do – smoke marijuana, for example, or drink alcohol – exist for a reason. But until we prevent them from having sex, which is impossible, adults should not prevent them from saving themselves from the consequences of that sex.
In fact, we can only aim to help them should they find themselves facing an unwanted pregnancy. After all, it’s not just saving them; it’s saving an unwanted child from coming into the world and it’s saving a society from taking on the burden of caring for a child. That should be something that all parties agree on. Let’s hope they can, before too many more lives are compromised.