March 8, 2006

Teen Abortions Reduced by Texas Notification Law

By Gene Emery

BOSTON -- Teen-age girls in Texas are having fewer abortions following enforcement of a law that forces doctors to tell a parent if their daughter wants to terminate her pregnancy, new research shows.

But the law has also increased the birth rate among older white teens and forced some girls to delay the procedure, increasing its risk.

A study published in this week's edition of the New England Journal of Medicine found that abortion rates in Texas have dropped 11 percent among 15-year olds, 20 percent among 16-year olds, and 16 percent among 17-year olds since the law took effect in 2000.

The estimates have been adjusted for the fact that birth and abortion rates among teens were already declining before the law took effect, the researchers said.

The findings show that the law has probably succeeded in reducing abortion rates among children, said the study leader, Theodore Joyce, a professor at the City University of New York.

Texas law forbids girls who are less than 18 years old to have an abortion until 48 hours after her physician has notified a parent that he has agreed to end the pregnancy.

The study found that many girls who become pregnant close to their eighteenth birthday put off the abortion until they turn 18 so they can avoid the notification requirement. But the delay "just makes more difficult, more expensive and potentially more risky," Joyce said.


The law also seemed responsible for a 10 percent increase in the birthrate among 17-year-old white girls who became pregnant when they were a bit further from their 18th birthday, so were unable to wait to have an abortion.

"The downside may be that we're showing a relative increase in birthrates among this older group of minors -- the 17-year-olds who are 17 years and 6 months when they conceive," he told Reuters. "No one wants high abortion rates among minors, and no one wants teens carrying to term a pregnancy they wouldn't have carried if there hadn't been the law."

"The demonstrated decrease in abortion rates and increase in birth rates suggest that Texas' parental notification law induced a rise in unintended childbearing among this subgroup of older minors," the researchers stated in the study.

They used data from Texas because the state is so large that it is difficult for girls to travel to another state to avoid the law's requirements.

The researchers also found some racial differences.

While the abortion rates fell for older minors who were white or Hispanic, they did not for blacks. The Joyce team said earlier research has shown that black girls are far more likely to inform their parents that they were using birth control or seeking an abortion.

Thirty five of the 50 states in the U.S. currently enforce laws that require a parent to be notified -- or to get a parent's consent -- after the child has sought an abortion.