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Tuesday, May 24, 2005

As most everyone knows, the Supreme Court will be looking this summer at the constitutionality of a New Hampshire provision that requires parental notification for minor abortions. The justices will decide whether health exceptions are required.

I want to talk about an aspect of how people respond to parental notification for abortions I haven't seen addressed elsewhere.

Working with those who were sexually abused as children, we find that some children and adolescents tell their parents when sexual abuse has occurred and some don't. In therapy, it is usually important for those kids who did not tell their parents to examine why they didn't.

Usually, their first reaction is "What do you mean, why didn't I tell my mom? Why should I have told her?" or "Of course I didn't tell her. Are you serious?"

Eventually one discovers a family system where the kids see it as their job to protect their parents from unpleasant realities. This can happen for many, many different reasons: Mom falls apart whenever there is bad news (if Mom was depressed for two weeks after I got a B in second grade, how will Mom react if she finds out that Mr. Smith put his hand in my crotch?). Dad reacts in self-absorbed fury whenever there is bad news. Mom (or Dad) starts drinking when there is bad news. Dad withdraws into an emotional ice-storm. Mom always makes everything all about her. Etc.

In other words: Some Parents Do Not Want To Know.

This applies to adolescent pregnancies and abortions just as much as it applies to any other challenging news in the family.

Many, many parents--out of their own dysfunction, inability to emotionally self-regulate, and need to protect themselves at the expense of their children--adopt a posture toward their teenagers that is similar to the posture of wives who seem not to know that their husbands are serial philanderers, even though it would be almost impossible to ignore the evidence.

The parents basically give up on parenting when things get tough in adolescence and abandon the kids to whatever is going on, preferring not to know.

These parents form one bloc of support for the idea that teenagers should not have to notify their parents when they want an abortion. These parents have a gut-level attachment to not having to know. Their wish-to-not-know is based on self-protection, not on anything related to what would be healthy and good for their kids.

Parents like this are viscerally opposed to parental notification laws because if such laws were in effect, they would be forced to know.

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