Last year I received a telephone call asking if the diocese of Juneau would participate in a petition to change the current law in Alaska whereby a young girl under the age of eighteen could have an abortion without parental notification.
As it was presented to me, a young girl in high school would need her parents' permission to receive an aspirin in school AND students are required to obtain their parents' permission to go on a field trip. But in the state of Alaska, parents are not notified if their daughter under the age of 18 is faced with pregnancy and considering an abortion. It came as a shock to me this would be the case. At that point I learned a little more about the process to put such an initiative on the ballot and quickly agreed to assist in the efforts of advancing this initiative.
At that point in time I asked petitions be available to all our parishes and missions throughout the diocese of Juneau. Throughout the state many groups and individuals gathered signatures and thousands of Alaskans signed the petitions. The petition drive was successful and this initiative is on the ballot for the August 24 election. This measure will prevent a young girl from getting an abortion without the doctor first notifying at least one parent before moving ahead with the procedure.
It is clear to me that most parents want to be involved in protecting the health and welfare of their daughters as well as uphold their onstitutional rights as parents in rearing their children. Parents' rights to protect their minor daughters should be upheld as opposed to giving these rights to those who have no legal responsibility for them. This measure is meant to restore in law the rights parents have to protect their minor daughters. In a just and decent society, we would protect all young, frightened girls from those who would try to convince them that a "secret" abortion would be their best option.
In a just and decent society, parents would not be kept in the dark when the welfare of their children and their unborn grandchildren is at stake. In such situations, the loving support of families is critical and needed most during these moments. Any institution that desires to be cryptic or secretive in dealing with the children of our community raises the serious question of trust. The phrase "Don't tell your parents," raises significant concerns and should not be the basis of any law.
Those who argue against parental notification laws do so based on the false premise that the majority of children come from abusive families. They claim that minors who are the victims of physical or sexual abuse in their own homes need to be able to make the decision to have an abortion without parental notification or consent since they may well be subject to further violence and harm by abusive parents or guardians. While this horrendous reality exists, the judicial bypass provisions of the initiative would actually serve to bring sexual and physical abuse to the attention of the courts, police and prosecutors. Furthermore, I do not believe that dysfunctional, abusive families are the norm in our communities, so much so that they become the standard for enacting laws that affect every family. To do so creates dysfunctional laws.
It is important that parents uphold their rights to raise their children. No organization or institution should drive a wedge between parents and children. When a young girl is pregnant and considering an abortion, this is when she needs a parent's love and guidance most.
This issue is not new to the United States, in fact, a number of other states have wrestled with it. A number of points have been made in order to safeguard parental rights. That is, if the family is to continue as a foundational institution within society, when confronted with the reality of an unexpected pregnancy, parents must, at a minimum, be afforded by law the ability to discuss with their adolescent daughter the grave decision that comes with an unwanted pregnancy.
The opponents of this initiative who frame it as a conflict between parents' and children's rights do not understand that it is within the family that every person receives their first notions of truth and goodness, learns what it means to be loved and grows into a well-rounded person.
Within the marriage rite of the church, the nuptial blessing speaks of the fruitfulness of love between a man and a woman in the sacrament of marriage. The Church in its blessing asks that the married couple will see their love shine forth in their children, and that God will hopefully so bless them that they will live to see their children's children.
On August 24, please make every effort to uphold parental rights in the state of Alaska by voting yes on Ballot Measure Two.
Edward J. Burns is the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska. He was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI and was installed on April 2, 2009.
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