At Catholics for Choice we imagine a world in which each individual is able to access confidential, high-quality reproductive health care when they need it, regardless of their income, immigration status, geography, race, or age. We work toward a world in which abortion is legal, safe, accessible, and free of stigma or shame and where those who provide these important services are respected for their compassion and expertise. Catholics for Choice opposes policies – including parental involvement requirements – that interfere with an individual’s ability to access reproductive care, including abortion, that at best ignore important values of our faith, and at worst actively undermine them.
As Catholics, we respect individual conscience. It is a tremendous responsibility to follow one’s individual conscience, which we see as a gift from God. For Catholics, conscience can be likened to the quiet, still voice that helps us discern right from wrong in important moral matters. Young people are capable of following their consciences as well as adults do, and it is not for anyone to determine deeply personal choices for another individual, regardless of their age.
While we hope for and work toward a society in which the dignity of every person, including young people, is respected and honored, and we strive for a world in which people feel like they are supported to make important moral decisions with grace, compassion, care, and support from their families and communities, we live in a world where that is not always the case. For young people who are faced with important reproductive health decisions, unnecessary barriers that obstruct access to care, such as requiring the involvement of parents are punitive and harmful. It is critical that young people are able to access the care they need from a trusted, high-quality provider, regardless of whether or not the young person chooses to involve their parents. This aligns with our Catholic calling to care for the vulnerable and marginalized. In reality most young people do choose to inform their parents in such important life decisions, but for those who do not or cannot, it is especially critical that the system remove obstacles to their seeking care. We keep in mind that for some young people abortion care is the difference between safety and compounded abuse as the parent who they might need to involve can be a person responsible in the pregnancy.
In certain places where parental involvement laws are in effect, legislators have established a system of judicial bypass which ostensibly allows young people to seek the care they need without approval or notification of their parents by involving the legal system. These systems are far better than the absolutist notion that parents must consent or be notified in cases of young people accessing reproductive health care, but they are burdensome and complex, and still fall far short of the values of compassion, dignity, and justice that Catholics strive to live by. Consider for a moment the trepidation of an immigrant teen needing to use the judicial bypass system. Imagine her heightened fear of having to navigate alone a complex legal system that might result both in their parents learning about their abortion and their getting into legal trouble because of their immigration status. This is not a fair or just system.
Parental involvement laws and judicial bypass workarounds are antichoice mechanisms aimed to limit abortion access, beginning with those for whom access is already tenuous. The hardships they create fall disproportionately on Black and brown families whose familial structures may not resemble the dominant system. These policies are yet another ramification of systemic racism, and they fail to recognize or value the diversity of our nation’s families. And at their core, these laws undermine the notion of individual agency and autonomy. As Catholics working toward an equitable world where each person is free to exercise their agency, we reject harmful polices like parental involvement laws that fail to connect to people’s lived realities, which undermine key Catholic values, and which ultimately are harmful to the communities that we live in and care for.