Pete Winn | Staff Writer | Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Florida State University law professor Jonathan Klick said the incidence of at least one sexually transmitted disease (STD) -- teen gonorrhea -- is dramatically reduced in states that have laws requiring minors to first notify a parent or seek permission before having an abortion.
Tracking the incidence of gonorrhea, said Klick, is a good yardstick for measuring risky sexual behavior among teens.
"We actually see the teenage gonorrhea rate drop by about 10 to 15 percent relative to the non-teenage gonorrhea rate," Klick told Cybercast News Service.
Klick and Thomas Stratmann, professor of economics at George Mason University, looked at statistics compiled over a 20-year period by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to see if teens altered their behavior after such laws were implemented. The results vary by ethnic group.
"For white and Hispanic teenage women -- on the order of a 20 percent reduction -- but we don't find anything nearly that large in the black gonorrhea rates," he added.
Klick said he wasn't trying to decide whether such laws are good or bad -- just whether they had an impact on behavior.
"We're able to use the passage and repeal of parental involvement laws for abortions to basically look at how teenagers respond to the change in the cost of risky sex," Klick said.
"What we were looking at was this model of rational choice of human behavior (and whether it is even applicable for the subpopulation of teenagers. And our results would suggest that it is," he said. "We chose gonorrhea rates because they are good indicators of teen (risky) behavior -- the CDC has kept fairly extensive statistics over the last two decades for all 50 states.
"We can't tell from the research whether they simply are having less sex or are being more fastidious in condom use, but there is a definite change in risky behavior," he said.
Shepherd Smith, president of the Institute for Youth Development, said the study confirms what might seem to be a common-sense notion.
"Young people do not want to be in a position where they have to tell their parents that they have been sexually active," Smith told Cybercast News Service. "They especially don't want them to know if the sexual activity was also risky -- meaning they had multiple partners or they were not careful, or there might be alcohol or drugs involved. Kids don't want to be put on that kind of hot seat."
But Concerned Women for America President Wendy Wright said she believes the study is further confirmation that parental-consent laws actually work.
"Not only do they reduce the number of abortions, as we have found out from other studies, this study shows that they additionally reduce the number of cases of sexually transmitted diseases among young people -- that's important," she said.
A Heritage Foundation study released in February found that parental involvement laws have been a major factor in a reduction of abortion rates among teen girls over the last 20 years. Since 1985, abortion has dropped by 50 percent among girls between 13 and 17 years of age -- from 13.5 abortions for every 1,000 girls in 1985 to just 6.5 per 1,000 girls in 1999.
Forty-four states currently have parental involvement laws, according to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Those laws say a teen must inform a parent (or legal guardian) or seek permission before an abortion is performed.
Twenty-four states have parental consent laws, meaning at least one parent must give permission -- or, in some cases, a judge -- for the abortion to be performed.
Those states are Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
Ten states -- Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, South Dakota and West Virginia -- have statutes that require minors to notify parents before they can have an abortion.
Judges in nine states have blocked the laws from taking effect pending further legal challenges. Alaska, California, Idaho and New Mexico all have consent laws that have been blocked, though New Mexico's law is blocked by the attorney general.
Notification laws have been blocked by courts in Illinois, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire and New Jersey.
Six states currently have no parental involvement laws: Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.
Calls to the Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood, both of which oppose laws that restrict a minor's access to abortion, were not returned by press time.
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