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Committee approves tougher requirements for adolescent abortions


Charleston Gazette-Mail

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — With almost no discussion Thursday afternoon, the House of Delegates Health and Human Resources Committee approved a bill that would eliminate one way minors can access abortion without parental notification in West Virginia.

House Bill 2002, sponsored by Delegate Kayla Kessinger, R- Fayette, removes physicians’ authorization to determine that parental notification of abortion is not necessary because an unemancipated minor is mature enough to decide to have the abortion, or that parental notification would not be in the minor’s best interest.

A physician may not perform an abortion on an unemancipated minor unless she gives 24 hours notice to a parent or legal guardian, or if the parent cannot be found, mails a letter 48 hours in advance, according to existing state code. Unemancipated minors may bypass that requirement by going to court, or by obtaining a waiver of parental notification from a physician.

After a couple questions for legal counsel during the 3 p.m. meeting, most delegates on the committee voted to pass the bill on to the House Judiciary committee. No health experts spoke during the meeting.

According to DHHR, four minors received a waiver of parental notification from a physician in 2015, and 48 teenagers underwent abortions that year.

The Supreme Court has ruled that states must provide judicial bypass mechanisms if they enact parental notification legislation, based on concerns for adolescents at risk of abuse.

But national associations of health professionals have issued research-based policy statements stating that judicial waivers can lead to emotional consequences for young women.

In a policy statement last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Adolescence summarized research on parental involvement in adolescent abortions and found that the judicial bypass process “poses risks of medical and psychological harm.”

“Judicial bypass is detrimental to medical well-being, because it causes further delays in access to medical treatment (from 4 days to several weeks), increasing the risk of complications from delayed or second-trimester abortion procedures,” the authors wrote.

The bill passed in committee Thursday does say that courts shall conduct hearings “without delay” and render decisions within 24 hours.

“Judicial bypass is detrimental to emotional well-being, because adolescents perceive the court proceedings as extremely burdensome, humiliating, and stressful,” the authors also wrote. “The pregnant adolescent is required to divulge intimate details of her private life to dozens of strangers [clerks, bailiffs, court reporters, witnesses, and others] to obtain a brief [10-minute] hearing before a judge who has no first-hand knowledge of her case and typically no training in counseling adolescents or developmental issues.”

The policy statement says that “[e]xisting research shows that most minors 14 to 17 years of age are as competent as adults to provide consent to abortion, are able to understand the risks and benefits of the options, and are able to make voluntary, rational, and independent decisions.” It says that adolescents “actively involve adults to whom they feel close.”

“Studies show that adolescents are most likely to disclose pregnancy if their family has a history of warmth, rapport, and involvement of parents in past problem-solving,” the statement says.

In Nov. 2011, the American Public Health Association also issued a policy statement on minors’ confidential access to abortion.

“Judicial bypass laws presented a compromise by the US Supreme Court when it upheld parental involvement laws on the grounds that adolescent women would still have an option for confidential access to abortion,” authors wrote. “However, in practice, the judicial bypass option is not accessible to many people who would seek it because of lack of awareness and information on the part of adolescents and courts, distance and lack of resources to travel, and courts’ inability or unwillingness to hear a bypass petition; it also results in unnecessary negative emotional consequences for adolescent women.”

The American Medical Association said in 2012, in its Journal of Ethics, that “[w]hen minors request confidential services, physicians should encourage them to involve their parents. This includes making efforts to obtain the minor’s reasons for not involving their parents and correcting misconceptions that may be motivating their objections.

Where the law does not require otherwise, physicians should permit a competent minor to consent to medical care and should not notify parents without the patient’s consent. Depending on the seriousness of the decision, competence may be evaluated by physicians for most minors. When necessary, experts in adolescent medicine or child psychological development should be consulted. Use of the courts for competence determinations should be made only as a last resort.”

According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 38 states required parental notification or consent for minors seeking abortions. Delaware, Maryland, Wisconsin and West Virginia allow health professionals to waive that requirement in some circumstances.

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