Saturday, January 3, 2015

Parents of Pregnant Girls and the Abortion Decision

Pregnant Children  

The U.S. has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the developed world. The highest rates are in the states of New Mexico, Mississippi, Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma. About 6% of girls/ young women 15 to 19 become pregnant each year. (Guttmacher link).

Christianity is the dominant religion in the U.S. Christian morality dictates that people should have sex within marriage and most believe that abortion is not an option (some Christians offer consideration when a woman's life is at risk). Nevertheless, most teens have had sex by age 17 and nearly half by age 16. 

When a girl becomes pregnant, she is at risk for a range of health and life problems. Anxiety and depression are common. 

Should the girl have a choice in managing her pregnancy or should her parents be consulted?


Should parents be involved in the decision of a minor to have an abortion?

Does religion play a role in attitudes toward parental involvement in the abortion, health care, and pregnancy decisions of minors?

What other factors affect attitudes toward parental involvement in abortion and pregnancy decisions?

Rights and Consent

 In the U.S., minors have a limited right to an abortion but parent notification or consent can be mandated, according to the Supreme Court. Samuel Lindsey and colleagues (2013) reviewed the status of the consent laws and asked college students their opinions about parental involvement clauses. They also wondered about the influence of other factors like religion.

The U.S. States vary in terms of consent requirements. Some require one parent and others require two parents to give consent. Some require notification. There are procedures to bypass parental involvement such as by involving a grandparent or allowing a judge to decide. Also, special circumstances can obviate the need for parent consent such as incest or a medical emergency.

A Research Study

The researchers (Lindsey et al) found that other writers identified religion as a significant predictor of attitudes toward abortion. Appropriately, the researchers note differences in how scientists account for the religious factor. Some have looked at religious affiliation such as being a Catholic or Protestant. But others have looked at more detailed ways to gauge religiosity. For example, the authors refer to the value of devotionalism as a predictor—the extent of involvement in religious activities like prayer and attending services. Another take on religiosity is the degree of orthodoxy—traditional beliefs. Another factor is evangelism—a focus on converting others to the faith. In the study, the researchers used scales with acceptable reliability values.

The researchers also looked at a quest orientation (briefly, religious life as a search for truth and meaning) and a multidimensional religious scale of beliefs and practices.

In the U.S., there are two major political parties—Republicans and Democrats.  The authors asked about party affiliation because Republicans generally oppose pro-choice positions and favor parental involvement more than do Democrats. Finally, the researchers considered characteristics of the participants such as race and gender as well as their attribution style (a focus on personal vs. situational factors).

Selected Outcomes
There were 267 undergraduates from the Western U.S. who completed the questionnaires.

The highest support was for clauses that required one parent to give consent (compared to two parent consent or notification only clauses).

When the researchers looked at predictors, they found political party was strong—as expected, those who identified as Republicans were more supportive of parental involvement.  The groups were especially different for the more restrictive clauses—favored by Republicans.

Women were less likely to support two-parent consent than were men.

Religious factors varied. Religious affiliation was of low value as a predictor. And several factors did not predict support for parental involvement—devotionalism, evangelism, and quest.


The sample. Like most, these researchers admitted to limitations in the study.  But this is one case where evaluating the attitudes of college students can be appropriate in that minority status is not far in the past and to some extent, many U.S. college students have not achieved full independence from their parents.  It would be helpful to appreciate the perspective of minors and parents of adolescent young women.

Measuring religion. The inclusion of several measures to identify multiple dimensions of religion or spirituality is a plus. It is always possible to argue about what measure is best. Fortunately, the days of just looking at self-reported denominational affiliation or church attendance are disappearing from research.

Politics and Religion. The idea of considering politics and religion in one study makes sense. Both can be powerful influences on how people live their lives. And politics seems like a religion for many people. For those of you not in the U.S., conservative Christians are considered highly influential in the Republican Party.

Confound? Perhaps, in measuring political party affiliation, the researchers were also measuring Christian values about abortion and parental rights. This could explain the lower predictive power of the religious variables.

Sex and Influence. Most U.S. girls and boys, men and women, have sex outside of marriage. Religious teaching against sex and contraception may influence the rate of pregnancy as will political action. Neither religion nor political action inhibits unmarried persons from having sex. The decisions that individuals and groups make are matters of life and death. And the quality of life for girls and their babies can last a lifetime.

Boys as Fathers. And by the way, does anyone care about the father of the child? Does he have a say in what happens to his child? Under what conditions ought the father to be included or excluded?


Lindsey, S. C., Sigillo, A.E., Miller, M.K. (2013). Attitudes toward parental involvement clauses in minor abortion laws and individual differences in religion, political affiliation, and attribution style among college students. Individual Differences Research, 11, 59-69.

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