WASHINGTON, March 5, 2014 — For decades, pro-choice lobbyists have fought any legislation that puts parents between minors and the so-called reproductive healthcare services sold by chains like Planned Parenthood. One argument was that parental notification laws would cause adolescents to avoid or delay “necessary” reproductive and sexual healthcare, resulting in increased teen pregnancies and, in turn, abortions. However, a major new study dramatically undercuts that argument.
According to Guttmacher, “55 percent of parents participating in a 2002 survey said that overall, proposed laws requiring that parents be notified before their minor children obtain prescription contraceptives are a good idea,” but 96 percent also feared that unintended consequences may include an increase in teen pregnancies.
Now, a new study from researchers at the University of Nottingham—an institution ranked in the top one percent of schools worldwide—found no evidence that mandatory parental consent laws for the dispensing of contraceptives to minors drive up teen pregnancy.
Sourafel Girma, chair of economics at the School of Economics in Nottingham University, and David Paton, chair of industrial economics at Nottingham University Business School, published “Does Parental Consent for Birth Control Affect Underage Pregnancy Rates? The Case of Texas” in the prestigious peer-reviewed journal Demography.
Paton, an expert on teen pregnancy and a member of three editorial boards for peer-reviewed journals, told CDN, “The reason for looking at Texas is that it is one of the few cases in the world where a parental consent rule has been implemented and so it is one of the few places on which it was possible to test the impact of such rules on teenage pregnancy.”
In January 2003, Texas started enforcing a mandate passed in 1999 for parental consent for the provision of state-funded prescription contraception to teenagers below the age of 18. Critics suggested at the time that “the law would lead to more than 5,000 additional births and 1,600 additional abortions per year amongst minors in the state,” or an increase of “about 20 percent, with an estimated direct medical cost of about $44 million.”
However, Girma and Paton found that the projections, based on the “conjectural response of minors,” did not actually translate into additional pregnancies and costs. In fact, they found, “For the youngest age group (those aged under-16), there is some evidence that, at the state level, pregnancy rates went down after the parental consent mandate relative to older teenagers who continued to be able to obtain state-funded contraception without parental consent.”
That finding should be of particular interest to parents. A 2012 survey conducted by GfK Custom Research, LLC confirmed that over 75 percent of parents strongly disapprove of their teens having sex and up to 76 percent of teens reported that their parents would strongly disapprove of them sex.
That finding is likely no surprise to the vast majority of involved parents. Parents are the biggest influence in a child’s life. No parent should ever approve of teens having sex outside of marriage and the vast majority of parents do not.
Among other caveats, while the authors note that minors may have gotten birth control from alternative sources, another explanation they offer is that minors responded to the actual parental involvement law by “reducing their aggregate level of risky sexual activity” more than their conjectural responses to potential laws predicted.
In other words, parents remain the biggest influence in a child’s life. When the promise of concealed sex without conscience or consequences—the siren call of contraceptive marketers—is replaced with the reality of parental involvement, teens moderate their sexual behavior.
Paul Rondeau is an independent social commentator and president of Synapse Associates, a conservative communication, training, and consulting firm.
(This article has been updated since its original posting.)