TO: Members of the House Judiciary Committee
FROM: Ellen Kolb, Legislative Affairs Director, Cornerstone Action; cell # 321-2703
RE: HB 329, relative to parental notification for minors’ abortion procedures
Cornerstone Action is a non-partisan, non-profit public policy organization of 6,000 New Hampshire residents. We support HB 329, granting parents a qualified right to be notified before an unemancipated minor daughter has an abortion. You have before you a bill that will pass constitutional muster. Just as importantly, it is time to reject the offensive and unjustified idea that pregnant New Hampshire adolescents are, as a rule, harmed by parental involvement in pregnancy-related decisions.
In a perfect world, New Hampshire would recognize (not grant) the fundamental (not qualified) rights of parents to provide consent for any medical or surgical procedure to be performed on their children. In a perfect world, there would be no need for a judicial bypass to parental involvement. This bill is not about perfection, though – it was drafted to work in the real world. It has been drafted with attention to, and respect for, the decision written by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood [546 U.S. 320 (2006)]. It is a careful balance of competing rights that are extremely personal in nature.
Justice O’Connor, with the unanimous agreement of her colleagues on the U.S. Supreme Court, affirmed a longstanding principle of the Court: “States have the right to require parental involvement when a minor considers terminating her pregnancy.” To stay within the bounds currently set by the court, the parental involvement must be subject to certain conditions and exceptions. In Ayotte, the Court held that one aspect of the New Hampshire law failed to provide adequate protection for minors needing an emergency abortion “for the protection of their health.” No other part of the law was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, and in fact in remanding the case to a lower court for reconsideration, Justice O’Connor wrote that invalidating an entire statute for one defect “is not always necessary or justified, for lower courts may be able to render narrower declaratory and injunctive relief.” That narrow relief was denied when your predecessors in 2009 chose to repeal the law.
HB 329 was drafted to address the Court’s concerns. It was written not to challenge the Court but to assert a state interest in the appropriate involvement of parents in their children’s lives.
This bill is co-sponsored by nine of your House colleagues and three senators. They represent several different towns and counties. Some are freshmen; one has been here for about 20 years. I don’t think there’s another bill you could get all twelve to sponsor together. For all their different backgrounds and levels of legislative experience, they have identified this – parental notification – as a high enough priority on which to put their names.
New Hampshire law as a whole recognizes that the parent-child relationship is unique: parents have tremendous responsibility for children, and while the state has an interest in children’s welfare, state intervention is not for routine use. Any assumption or claim that a parental-notification statute endangers pregnant adolescents is an insult to the overwhelming majority of parents whose love and care take them beyond disappointment in the face of a daughter’s unintended pregnancy.
Sadly, the safeguards written into the bill could serve to undermine the interests of a minor who is pregnant through incest, rape, or other abuse. If such a minor seeks judicial bypass, a judge need not know about the reason abortion is sought. The judge may limit a decision to a determination that a minor is mature enough to make up her own mind. The abuser then escapes detection by police and child-welfare authorities, and the pregnant minor goes right back to her abusive environment. As we have noted, however, this is not a perfect-world bill.
Lawmakers have long held that minors, because of their age and presumed lack of fully-formed judgment, cannot enter contracts without a parent or guardian. Not long ago, at the urging of Gov. Lynch, our lawmakers stopped letting 16- and 17-year-olds drop out of school. Getting a driver’s license means getting a parent’s permission for drivers under age 18. In almost all cases, we recognize that parental involvement is a crucial necessity for the welfare of our children, including adolescents in crisis.
Finally, you may find yourselves threatened today with a lawsuit against the state if this bill is passed. Remember that this bill was drawn up in order to conform to U.S. Supreme Court holdings. No dollar sign is big enough to overshadow the legitimate rights of parents. Who benefits from a lawsuit? Not the pregnant adolescent, who is in the hands of strangers during what is probably the greatest crisis of her young life. Not the parents, who with the state’s blessing may be ignorant of their daughter’s medical condition. Only abusers, abortion providers and their lawyers have anything to gain from litigation. Support parents in their right to be involved in their daughters’ lives, and support those daughters as they cope with what may be painful decisions, by passing HB 329.