Study Finds Parental Involvement Laws Reduce Teen Suicides

By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., NRL-ETF Director of Education & Research

Randall K. O'Bannon, Ph.D.

Whenever parental notification or consent laws are considered, abortion advocates make many dubious claims – that they aren’t needed, since most teens already tell their parents (so why the problem?), that teens fully comprehend the medical and psychological consequences of their decisions (they don’t), that such laws won’t work (despite evidence that they do), and so forth. 

But perhaps the most dire threat they make is that such laws may push pregnant teens to consider suicide. (See, for example, the official voter guide for California’s unsuccessful Proposition 85 from 2006, signed by such luminaries as those heading the California Medical Association, the California District of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California. Proposition 85 was a voter referendum on a proposed amendment to the state constitution calling for waiting periods and parental notification before a minor’s abortion.* The measure failed by a 54% to 46% margin.)

A study by two economists appearing in the January 18, 2012 online version of the Journal of Economic Inquiry refutes the hysteria with solid evidence that parental involvement laws actually decrease the incidence of teen suicide, rather than increase it.  So, if all those luminaries want to reduce the numbers of teen suicides, they’d need to switch sides on the parental involvement issue.

In “The Effect of Parental Involvement Laws on Youth Suicide,” economists Joseph J. Sabia and Daniel I. Rees examine state level data from 1987 to 2003, looking at suicide rates among teens that would and would not be affected by laws.  What they found was that “the adoption of a law requiring a parent’s notification or consent before a minor can obtain an abortion is associated with an 11%-21% reduction in the number of 15- through 17-year-old females who commit suicide.”

To ensure that this was not simply a side effect of some other cause, Sabia and Rees looked at suicide rates of older teens and young males not covered by the law.  Suicide rates for young women 18 and over, and for teen-age males 15 to 17, who would not be directly impacted by the law, were unaffected.

These results persisted when the economists controlled for variables such as abortion funding, waiting periods, drinking age and demographic factors such as high school graduation rates, poverty, and unemployment rates.

The authors conclude that “These results are consistent with the hypothesis that parental involvement laws represent an increase in the expected cost of having unprotected sex, and, as a consequence, serve to protect young females from depression and what have been termed “stressful life events” such as conflict with a parent or an abortion.” 

Given that we know parental involvement laws also reduce the number of abortions (see NRL factsheet on “Teens & Abortion: Why Parents Should Know” at www.nrlc.org/Factsheets/FS17_TeensandAbortion.pdf), that means these laws are saving the lives of both mothers and unborn children.

A free abstract of the article can be found at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1465-7295.2011.00440.x/abstract.

*www.voterguide.sos.ca.gov/past/2006/general/props/prop85/argue_rebutt85.htm 

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