Sixteen & Pregnant: Minors’ Consent in Abortion and Adoption
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A minor girl’s decision about how to handle an unplanned pregnancy is a highly contested issue. Especially contentious is the minor’s ability to consent to an abortion independently of an adult such as her parents or a judge. That issue has received substantial attention from policy makers, scholars, judges, and legislators. Almost no attention has been paid, however, to the decision of a pregnant minor to continue her pregnancy, relinquish her constitutionally protected parental rights, and place a child for adoption. In 37 states, a minor’s abortion decision is regulated differently than an adult’s, while in only 15 states is a minor’s decision to relinquish parental rights and consent to adoption treated any differently from an adult’s decision. New neuroscientific advances in the understanding of minors’ decisionmaking seem to justify protective regulation of the adoption placement decisions of minor mothers, as does the law’s traditional treatment of minors’ decisionmaking in areas other than abortion. The justifications often advanced for the need for parental involvement in a minor’s abortion decision — the physical/medical risks, the psychological/emotional effects, and the importance of the decision — apply with equal force to the decision about adoption placement. The decision about adoption placement also differs from the abortion decision in at least one crucial respect — the legal complexity of the adoption decision adds another layer to the medical and moral decisions present in abortion. All states should require that minor mothers have independent legal counsel when making the decision about relinquishment of parental rights and consent to adoption placement.
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