Parental Consent or Parental Contempt?


What gives the parents the right to make this decision?
(from Baloo)

Last night, while you were dreaming of swimming in oceans of dark chocolate or of fluffy bunnies romping through fields of daisies, I was writing this blog article on parental consent laws. No, I don’t mean actually writing it. I was dreaming of writing it. Needless to say, I woke up exhausted. Just once, I’d like to have a normal night’s sleep.

Anyway, since I did all the hard work last night, I might as well transcribe what my brain already went through the effort of creating.

The controversy is that teenage girls are getting birth control pills, and the fundies are having a conniption. I know what you’re thinking. Correlation does not necessarily imply causation. The fundies are always having a conniption. They have so many conniptions they look like an epileptic at a strobe light festival.

In this case, though, we know the birth control pills are one of the causes of the conniption, because the fundies make sure to tell us about it. Frequently. Here’s just one example. Amusingly, the fundies aren’t just opposed to giving teenagers birth control pills, which affect the body’s hormone levels and could theoretically have adverse health effects. The fundies are also opposed to giving teenagers any form of birth control, such as condoms!

(As a funny aside, one of the reasons fundies give for their opposition to condoms, diaphragms, and other barrier methods of contraception is those methods’ allegedly-high failure rate. Then the fundies turn around and advocate teaching the rhythm method!)

OK, so let’s take a look at these laws that govern the ability of minors to obtain contraception. A website calling itself tells us:

Twenty-one states explicitly allow all minors to consent to contraceptive services without parental permission.

The other states have some sort of restrictions, and in some of those states “the physician may, but is not required to, inform the parents.”

My knee-jerk reaction should be to hold the opposite opinion of the fundies. However, I have heard non-fundie parents complain about the laws that allow their kids to secretly obtain birth control pills without the parents needing to be informed. I have not heard non-fundies complain about condoms and other forms of birth control. I wouldn’t be surprised if that makes them uneasy too, but it is primarily birth control pills that get their concern, because it is a medical treatment. They feel that should fall entirely under their control as parents, not the control of the state.

That is my interest in the subject. We expect the fundies to have an irrational opinion, because it’s driven by ignorance and superstition. But what about the opinion of the people who have a rational argument?

First of all, the most compelling argument in favor of allowing teens to get contraception without notifying the parents is that it is in the teens’ best interest. If the teen knows that the parents will be informed, some will prefer to run the risk of pregnancy or STDs.

But what I want to explore here is the argument that apparently bothered my subconscious so much last night that it had to work through all the pros and cons when it should have been sleeping. That argument is whether the state has a compelling need to interfere with the parents’ rights to choose how to raise their child.

I discovered a while ago that I’m that extremely rare thing known as a liberal libertarian. Surprised the snot out of me, but that’s just because I disagree with most of what the so-called “Libertarians” of today are advocating. Those people are actually anarchists, because they want no laws or regulations whatsoever on how they make or spend their money, no matter how much harm it causes to other people. They are sociopaths of the highest order. (At least the extremists in the party are, but that’s all you hear from these days. I know they all weren’t that way in the past.)

I have always been a civil libertarian. I value our civil liberties extremely highly, and I get angry at those who take them away. However, I recognize that rights will always come into conflict in a free society, and I balance the needs of the individual against the needs of society as a whole. That’s why I support the social safety net of jobless benefits, universal health care (In some form. It doesn’t have to be a big-government Canadian-style system. I just want a system that covers everyone at a fair price and works well. The current system does none of those things.), etc. It is in the best interest of society to not throw people under the bus when they have a bit of bad luck. You don’t want welfare queens, of course, but almost none of those ever existed. (That was one of Reagan’s many deluded fantasies.)

So the question is, where in the Constitution did we turn over our rights as parents to the state? By what right or authority does the government think it has to intervene in raising our children?

My response is that that is not the appropriate question.

The real question is what gives you, the parents, the right to violate your child’s privacy?

(Actually, this is all academic to me, since I’m not a parent. Ha! The government isn’t taking my rights away!)

Rights first and foremost belong to the individual. Only when there is a compelling need can some of those rights be taken over by another entity. Therefore, the default condition is that the child has full and total rights as an individual, and has only lost those rights to the parent (or the state) as are necessary for the situation.

Before you go all bonkers on me, I am not advocating that a one-day-old infant has full rights to vote, buy booze, and drive a car. What I am saying is that we as a society long ago agreed that upon birth, a person has some rights that cannot be taken away, and we gradually allow them to acquire more rights as they mature.

You cannot kill an infant (Actually, you can. They’re quite defenseless, and they have a squishy spot on the top of their head. What I mean is you can’t legally kill an infant.). Therefore, we all agree that the infant has the right to life, and probably a few other rights. When they turn 13, they can join Facebook. When they turn 16, we let them drive. At 18, they can vote. At 21, they can buy alcohol. At 35, they can become president.

No so many years ago, we executed a 14-year-old in this country (and after a forced confession, no less!). Although we no longer execute minors, we still lock them up in adult prisons when we don’t like what they’ve done. We’ve apparently all agreed that a teenager is capable of enough rational thought to be held responsible for criminal activity, yet we don’t think they have enough rational thought to take responsibility for sexual activity?

Wrong. We have already agreed that they have they necessary capacity at that age. We have already given them those rights. That’s why the parents should not be told when their little darling is given a prescription for The Pill.

8 Responses to “Parental Consent or Parental Contempt?”

  1. Jeff Says:

    I don’t get the cartoon. I agree about circumcision, but I don’t understand why it’s (supposed to be) funny.

    The seventies, screwed up as they were, represented that last time there was any real hope for civilization. Reagan killed it. My entire adulthood has consisted of watching the Republicans and evangelicals cement their hegemony. I have no hope left now.

  2. Ron Britton Says:


    I’m assuming the mohel isn’t saying the kid verbally told him about winter, but he “stuck his head out”. It’s not particularly funny, but I spent over an hour looking for anything to illustrate this article with. Sometimes with these graphics, I have to take what I can get.

    If you search on “parental consent”, most of the graphics have to do with abortion. I deliberately left that out of this article, because I wanted to focus on the less-severe issue of parental consent for birth control.

    The circumcision obviously relates to this article. Since we’re giving the parents the right to mutilate the child’s body, what other mutilation is acceptable? How about tattooing “I love Jesus” across the kid’s forehead? What about foot binding? Obviously, mutilation of any form should not be allowed. If the kid wants to be mutilated, let him make that decision when he’s old enough.

  3. Jeff Says:

    Oh, I wasn’t criticizing your choice. I just didn’t get it. I still don’t, actually.

    However, I’m very impressed you know what a mohel is!

  4. Ron Britton Says:


    However, I’m very impressed you know what a mohel is!

    Never let anyone tell you television isn’t educational.

  5. Jeff Says:

    Oh, that’s right! Charles Levin, the character actor. I don’t know what he’s doing these days.

    You know, I was just watching, last night, the episode in which they introduced the rabbi who lived in Elaine’s building and couldn’t keep a secret.

  6. Parrotlover77 Says:

    While I agree with the spirit of this post, I’m torn on the birth control thing. Not because I think parents necessarily have any right to know the sexual activities of their teenage kids, but because there could potentially be a life threatening issue (blood clot, for example) where the young girl is unconscious and the parents won’t be able to give ER doctors correct information when they ask if she’s on any medication.

    I suppose good electronic records in the future would make that problem obsolete since the prescription information would be able to be accessed at the hospital, but that’s not the case at this time.

    Tough one for me…

  7. Ron Britton Says:


    there could potentially be a life threatening issue (blood clot, for example) where the young girl is unconscious and the parents won’t be able to give ER doctors correct information when they ask if she’s on any medication.

    That’s a good point, and I thought about it for a while before writing this post. There really isn’t a clear-cut line in this issue. Teenagers are in this transitory state between child and adult. I think it’s wrong to deny them all rights and responsibilities until they hit 18, but neither should they be given full rights at 13 (or 11 or whatever).

  8. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Yes, that was basically what I was getting at. It’s tough for me. My internal civil liberties Id screams out INJUSTICE when I see people’s rights trampled on (even the young’uns) like how yours does, Ron. But outside of the religious nutbaggery, there are some real issues that could have life and death consequenes.

    OTOH, political spectrum surveys tend to find me out in Demoratic Socialist land without much of a hint of libertarianism, so maybe that’s why I can’t as easily make this decision as you did. I think for (true) libertarian process, it’s easier because there’s a lot of weight on personal responsibility.

    BTW, the nutjob libertarians-in-name-only are commonly referred to as glibertarians in the Great Republic of Liberal Blogistan.