There are some interesting stories coming out of Turin, Italy, right now, which suggest that an Italian judge forced a 13 year old girl to have an abortion after her parents decided that they didn’t want her having the child. Apparently Italian law firmly leaves medical decisions of minors in their parents hands until they reach legal adulthood, which is either 16 or 18 – I’ve seen claims of both.
Now, first and foremost, I’m not certain I believe this story. I can’t find it on any major news site that I would trust – I only see it popping up on anti-choice blog sites and religious pseudo-news sites, which have a sort of odd and incestuous relationship that makes it easy for an urban legend to be reported as fact. But also, Italy is very Catholic, and tends to frown on abortions. (And because of that, you’d think the Church would try to get involved, make media statements, etc.)
Setting those issues of validity aside for a moment, let’s treat it as true – an Italian judge did order a 13 year old girl to have an abortion. (And, according to the story, she’s now so destitute over the loss that she’s been committed to a psychiatric ward after threatening to kill herself, as life is no longer worth living – another thing that admittedly makes me think it’s more propaganda than news.) The Italian law is pretty clear that the parents dictate medical treatments of children until adulthood; maybe this law is wrong. I’m not a lawyer, and don’t feel terribly qualified to discuss potential ramifications. The other thing we can ask, then, is whether or not parents have the right to require their dependent daughter abort.
As a whole in the United States, reproductive health issues – including abortion – are treated separately than other medical decisions in the consent/assent war. (This in itself has always struck me as problematic – a 16 year old can’t consent to an appendectomy, but can consent to an abortion?) Parental approval is required for anything but abortion (and in some states, permission from parents for certain age brackets is a requirement – abortion law does vary from state to state, so understand that I am speaking broadly for the sake of the topic as a whole). Is this the way it should be? Should parents be able to consent, while children only assent, to treatment save reproduction related? It does create a bit of an uneven system. So should we go the other way and say that parents have no right to make any medical decisions for their children after a certain age – or every right to make every decision until a certain age?
What gives the parent the moral fortitude to say that “regardless of whether you want to or not, you’re being sliced open to have that gall bladder removed because it’s bad for you!” (or tonsils, appendix, any other pesky body part that’d rather kill us than play nicely in our giant, biologic sandbox), but not to be able to decide whether or not their child has a child? Why are they wise when it comes to adenoids, but not babies? If they truly feel the best interest of their child is to have heart surgery, why can’t they also decide it’s in their best interest to not have a baby?
Some of these answers drift back to the law, and what the law has decided about sexual health that sets it apart from other health. One of those is the fact that in some places, pregnancy/birth automatically emancipates you – you get to make all your own health decisions.
But, if we are going to charge that a parents duty is to make sure their child receives the medical attention necessary for the best health and quality or life, why are we equally certain that a parent couldn’t decide that an abortion best followed that criteria for health and quality?