Monday, March 15, 2010

Parental consent

The Alaska Family Council and other conservative groups in Alaska have been trying to get a ballot initiative in front of Alaska voters that would require doctors to obtain parental consent or notification before minor girls could obtain abortions. Just last week, the AFC announced that they had gotten enough signatures on a petition so that the measure will go forward. Legal staff at the state level are now working on the wording of a ballot initiative that we will vote on in August. Here is a link to a very short article about the topic:

The issue of parental consent/notification is ripe for sociological analysis. Conflict theory immediately comes to my mind, as the issue of abortion is one that has divided American society for many years. Abortion has a very long history; it's not a new issue at all. Groups have been in conflict with each other over abortion since at least the late 1800s. The Alaska Family Council, following the leadership of national conservative family groups, has reframed the issue in a quite interesting way. In the past, conservative groups have argued against legal abortion based on morality issues, claims that abortion causes psychological harm, and the natural right of fetuses to be born. Their newest argument is that limiting abortion access to young women will return rights seized from parents.  The latest tactic seeks to make doctors responsible for obtaining parental consent before an abortion is performed on girls younger than 18. Other ideas floating around are to require doctors to notify parents before an abortion is performed. Either way, most social observers agree that the ultimate purpose of conservative family groups is to prohibit abortion altogether, to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision of the early 1970s that legalized particular forms of abortion.

This is a marked shift in political strategy, and it looks like the strategy may be working in Alaska as they got over 32,000 signatures on the petition--enough to put the measure on the ballot. This will be an interesting topic to keep an eye on during the next few months! We won't know until August if the ballot initiative will pass. And, of course, a court may stop the initiative from finally being placed on the ballot. Planned Parenthood and other pro-reproductive rights groups are filing motions to prevent the ballot initiative from happening.

Just to give you additional context, Alaska passed a similar parental consent/notification bill over a decade ago. An Alaska court overturned the law, however, as a result activists' work in favor of young women's reproductive rights.

Think about this issue in terms of what you have learned about families, especially about power within families. Also, what other sociological paradigms do you think would be useful to apply to this topic?

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