Seeing Things: Parental Rights and Wrongs

“If I find out that the Government is making it easier for my daughters to have sex without getting pregnant, I’m not going to call my Congressman, I’m going to get my shotgun,” a friend remarked a few years ago when the controversy over school-based “health” clinics (distributing condoms, contraceptives, and abortion information) first erupted. All of us laughed at hearing this heartfelt expression of old-style family honor.

Few of us are laughing anymore. Not long ago, government intrusions of this sort between parents and children provoked instinctive outrage. But last year we saw the defeat, after an acrimonious campaign, of a parents’ rights initiative in Colorado, which among other things declared that parents have a primary right to decide what sort of education their children receive. That we need such measures speaks volumes about our current state. The Colorado ACLU director characterized parental rights as the “reimposition of patriarchy.”

Today, governments separate parents and children as never before in history. In 1946, the United Nations adopted a Universal Declaration of Human Rights that reflected the older view. Article 16, section 3, states: “The family is the natural and fundamental group of society and is entitled to protection.” Article 26, section 3, adds: “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given their children.” It’s a sad day when the UN’s position is better than America’s. But fifty years ago, all the nations of the world affirmed basic truths that are fast disappearing.

School-based sex counseling and abortion without parental involvement rip families apart. One of the deepest mysteries is why parents have taken such developments lying down. Though almost two-thirds of the states have passed laws requiring parental notification or consent for abortion (with judicial bypasses, however, that render the measures almost useless) there has been no large popular groundswell to recover family integrity. We need more such initiatives and greater parental involvement with children in a variety of ways. But we have to understand clearly that our current problems are as much a result of parental action (or inaction) as they are of children’s waywardness.

The facts are startling. Surveys of teenagers show that more than half of pregnant teenagers (55 percent) get abortions with their parents’ involvement. Of the remaining 45 percent, one-third who do not tell parents fall into a catch-all category of having “experienced violence” at home, or of fearing violence or being kicked out of the house. The remainder (30 percent of the total) neither tell their parents nor fear serious consequences if they do.

This last category is particularly worrisome. As several notorious cases have recently shown, schools are prohibited from circumventing parents on other medical matters. Students cannot receive Tylenol or give one another a Midol capsule without serious repercussions. Yet these same schools provide condoms, birth control pills, or information about abortion services without the slightest qualm. Parents need to demand the same control over sex-related issues as they already pos-sess over other medical decisions.

This would not simply restore parental rights. State parental notification laws reduce both abortions and teenage pregnancies. The abortion industry argues that this simply means teenagers cross state lines to get abortions. But careful analysis of the numbers in Minnesota, Massachusetts, Missouri, and several other states confirms that even when out-of-state abortions are factored in, teenagers change their behavior if parents are in the picture.

This should come as no surprise. Yet the American Medical Association and the American Psychological Association oppose mandatory parental consent for abortions. They claim that forcing teenagers to tell sometimes- abusive parents will increase child abuse. The APA even argues that teenagers are mature enough to make major life decisions, something unbelievable to any of us who remember being teenagers. The ACLU argues loopily that, far from restoring family integrity, requiring parents and children to talk to one another is itself government coercion of families.

If you want to see how widespread this view has become, ask your Internet search engine to call up “parental notification.” In virtually every state, ACLU chapters inform people that the courts, the Constitution, and a litany of constitutional amendments guarantee teenagers’ rights to abortion. You get the impression the United States was founded mainly to secure such rights.

This situation is not likely to get better soon, because we are in a double bind. First, we need parents to demand that government butt out. But secondly we need a vigorous campaign to persuade parents themselves that murdering their unborn grandchildren for the sake of their children is sheer lunacy. At present, a majority of American parents are willing to do so, while the rest remain all but silent.

  • Robert Royal

    Robert Royal is editor-in-chief of, and president of the Faith & Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. His most recent book is The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West, now available in paperback from Encounter Books.

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