Minor's Rights Versus Parental Rights: Review of Legal Issues in Adolescent Health Care

Ann Maradiegue, C-FNP, MSN


J Midwifery Womens Health. 2003;48(3) 

In This Article

Abortion Services: Roe v Wade

The Roe v Wade case involved an adult unmarried woman; later the Court extended the right to minors.[48] Justice Harry Blackmun, when writing an opinion on abortion for Roe v Wade, found that abortion had not always been illegal in the United States. Legal abortions were widely practiced until the late 19th century when most states had outlawed abortion. Justice Blackmun came up with the trimester framework, which determined that abortion in the first trimester of pregnancy is safer than pregnancy.[48]

Abortion and Adolescents

In 1979, Bellotti v Baird held a Massachusetts statute governing parental or judicial consent for minors seeking abortion unconstitutional.[22] The case ruled that a minor could obtain an abortion without the consent of her parents. However, a state can require a court to authorize the minor's decision either by determining she is mature enough to make the decision on her own or by determining that despite her immaturity, the decision to abort is in her best interest.[10,25,30]

The topic of abortion results in heated debates. In 1992, the Supreme Court reviewed Planned Parenthood v Casey with Justice Sandra O'Connor writing the opinion for the Court.[49] She relied heavily on stare decisis to allow the legal precedent for abortion to continue. Stare decisis is the principle that follows a precedent established by prior decision on a legal issue. The trimester framework of Roe v Wade was overruled in this case.[49] The laws regarding abortion continue to evolve ( Table 2 ). Several important issues arose in Planned Parenthood v Casey:


  1. 24-hour informed consent prior to abortion

  2. Parental consent of one or both parents with judicial bypass

  3. Married woman required to have signed statement saying she notified spouse

  4. Compliance with requirements exempted in emergency

  5. Facilities performing abortion subject to reporting requirements.


Planned Parenthood v Casey held that all abortion legislation for the state of Pennsylvania was valid except spousal notification.[49]

In 1997, the judgment in Lambert v. Wicklund upheld a state statute requiring parental decision for a minor to obtain an abortion and allowing judicial bypass in only limited circumstances.[50] Abortion laws for unemancipated minors continue to become more restrictive. Justice Scalia believes Roe v Wade was wrongly decided and is not part of a woman's constitutional rights.[50] Most recently, the House passed the Unborn Victim's Act, making it a federal crime to harm a fetus during an assault on a woman. This opens the door to more restrictive abortion legislation, particularly for minors.[51]

Following the historic progression of abortion laws, some policy experts think the continuing changes will eventually lead to erosion of the contraceptive laws, which will in turn lead to high rates of teen pregnancy. The prospect of more than a million pregnancies in individuals under the age of 20 years in the United States with increasingly fewer alternatives to pregnancy is troublesome.[2,7,18]


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