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Age of Consent

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Her mother was incompetent, her father beat her, and so she lived with her grandmother, who was gravely ill. Somehow, through this dysfunction, the girl was still college-bound--and convinced that she was not ready for children, or for the beating that her father would give her if he found out she was pregnant.

Her judge's decision was the first denial under the 1982 notification law, and the time needed for an appeal would have carried the girl well beyond the first trimester of pregnancy, when it is safest--and most legal--to conduct an abortion.

Phoenix attorney Stan Lubin took her case to federal court and had the notification law enjoined because it compromised the girl's constitutional right to privacy. The girl had her abortion.

"We just made the first trimester," Lubin says.
And as for the current interest in reinstating such laws, he quips, "I have jokingly suggested that we try to amend any bill that comes out and say that parental consent is absolutely required when parental consent was obtained to get pregnant."

In 1987 and 1989, the Legislature again passed consent laws; both were quickly thrown out in federal court for being "constitutionally vague."

Early this year, Representative Jeff Groscost, Republican of Mesa, introduced a parental-consent bill intended to beat the federal rap.

"That bill's language is the model that national Right to Life uses, based on Supreme Court decisions where they have found parental-consent laws to be constitutional," says Judith Connell, legislative director of Arizona Right to Life.

But it went nowhere. Instead, Senate President John Greene and House Speaker Mark Killian plan to combine parental consent with family-planning and teenage-pregnancy-prevention bills, take it up during a special session and require that legislators vote for or against all of those programs as a package.

Neither Killian nor Greene will divulge the contents of the package. Connell, who has helped Killian with the bill's drafting, claims that the language of the parental-consent portion will look similar to the earlier Groscost bill.

Pro-choicers in the Legislature refer to the packaging as "extortion"--forcing pro-choice people to accept parental consent if they want much-needed family-planning and teen-pregnancy funds.

Connell says the logic is just the opposite, that parental consent will help drag those other issues through passage.

"We have the votes for parental consent in the House," she says. "We have the votes in the Senate. We have a governor who will sign parental consent. It's a no-brainer issue. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that mom and dad need to have that authority and need to have their natural rights restored to assist their child in this unexpected pregnancy. It's critical."

Gloria Feldt of Planned Parenthood disagrees as to what is needed.
"We need to have vastly better sexuality education," she says. "We need to have vastly increased information out there in the community to provide for the prevention of unintended pregnancies to begin with and for people to know what their options are if they have unintended pregnancies. We need to ensure that a 12-year-old knows when she has been sexually abused, for young women and men to feel a sense of control over and responsibility for their bodies. That's what enables them to make more responsible decisions about when they're going to have sex and who they're going to have sex with, and to be able to say no.

"A law that mandates parental consent is way after the fact. It's way too late to fix any parent-child communication problems."

Joseph Feldman, manager of counseling and surgical services for Planned Parenthood, says that in his nine years on the job he can recall "hundreds and hundreds of stories told to me by teenage girls."

Some were afraid of being kicked out of the house, others afraid their college plans would be derailed, still others afraid they would lose their parents' respect and trust and love. Last week, one pregnant girl explained to Feldman that her mother had told her she was too young to go to a gynecologist.

By law, abortion clinics, including Planned Parenthood, have to inform their patients on options to abortion. Planned Parenthood offers to help the girls tell their parents.

Feldman worked for Planned Parenthood back in 1987, when the last parental-notification law was in effect.

"I remember sending young kids off with a paper in their hands," he says, meaning that they had chosen to obtain a judicial bypass to avoid telling their parents.

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Michael Kiefer