By now the Supreme Court decision on abortion is out of the news and onto the lawyers' desks. The pro- and anti-abortion advocates are poring over the judicial fine print, trying to find advice in the adjectives, trying to plot the future out of the verb tenses.
The court, by a 6-to-3 margin, on June 15 strongly reaffirmed its support of abortion rights. It struck down a series of laws that were designed to limit and discourage abortions. The majority also reaffirmed the right of a state to require parental consent for a minor, as long as she has recourse to some form of appeal in court.
As often happens, the Supreme Court not only decided the law, it laid out the terms of the political struggle. The anti-abortion forces, defeated in nearly every attempt to limit abortions for adults, will pursue the long, hard fight for a constitutional amendment. One chapter of that fight opened yesterday as Senate debate began on the Hatch amendment.
The anti-abortionists also will take the court's blueprint for a law governing minors, and begin selling it to one state legislature after another. As Uta Landy of the National Abortion Federation said, "We can expect a wave of legislation supporting parental consent."
The question of abortions for minors has always been a tough one for parents. Children's rights, parents' rights, and abortion rights are braided together into one thick political debate.
At the moment, six states--Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, North Dakota, Oklahoma and Rhode Island--require minors to have parental consent or a court equivalent, while six other states require parental notification.
In at least one of them, Massachusetts, where judges have rubber-stamped thousands of approvals, the law still has had a "chilling effect" on pregnant girls. Three major clinics report decreases in teen-age clients of 50 percent. The same teen-ager who needed permission for an abortion needed no permission to deliver a baby.
It is always the anti-abortion people who introduce these laws. It is always the pro-abortion people who fight them. But our feelings are murkier than they may appear on political roll calls.
Pro-abortion people are also uncomfortable with the vision of a 14- or 15- year-old facing this choice, going through an abortion all alone. Pro-abortion people also know intuitively that there's a vast difference between the way a 24- year-old makes decisions and the way a 15-year-old makes decisions.
We all understand that a parent has a greater responsibility for a teen-ager than for an adult child. We all understand that the teen-ager has a greater need for a parent.
What is at issue is ambivalence about the definition of "protection." On the one hand, many of us want to protect the right of these "young, young women" to have access to abortions. On the other hand we also want to protect these "old children" when they are troubled.
I don't believe that there is a place for the law in this area. We can't force families to do what we hope they'll do: share problems, communicate easily, support each other. I don't believe in using the fear of mothers, fathers or judges to scare teen-agers into maternity.
But it isn't enough anymore to simply oppose legislation as it crops up in one state after another. Over the years, pro-choice energy has gone overwhelmingly into fighting anti-abortion legislation. Now it seems to me that everyone who opposes mandatory parental consent laws has an equal obligation to ensure voluntary programs.
As Nanette Falkenberg, head of the National Abortion Rights Action League, says: "We have to make sure that minors have access to the right to choose. But we also have to ensure that when they make that decision, there's a support system to help them through it."
The best clinics already make efforts to involve a parent or aunt or adult friend. The best clinics already treat adolescents, as they should, very differently from adults. But it is time now, when the courts have reinforced the rights of adult women, to turn our attention to the caretaking of these minors. For political reasons and humane ones, they need both kinds of protection.
Copyright (c) 1983, The Boston Globe Newspaper Company