Maturing Minors and Reproductive Choice

William Saletan writes in Slate on the coercive power Sarah Palin, as mother and as governor, has had over her daughter in the area of reproductive choice. Following his review of Palin’s efforts to require parental consent for abortion — her tenacity in this alone earns her love and admiration from the religious conservatives, and horror and anger from just about anyone else — Saletan frames the issue within the second class citizenship of maturing minors (i.e., young people approaching the age of maturity — these days, age 18):

Palin and McCain will hardly suffer politically for asserting such dominion. Parental consent laws are wildly popular. In a press release touting Palin’s selection, Americans United for Life points out that “polling consistently shows that 70% of [the] American public supports these common sense laws.” Why does every poll show broad support for vetoing minors’ decisions? Because minors don’t get polled. They can’t vote.

That’s the way it used to be with blacks and women: You can’t protect yourself when you don’t have the franchise. Look at today’s restrictions on personal freedom. Who’s being banned from tanning salons? Minors. Who’s being blocked from buying junk food? Minors. Who’s being ordered off city streets by 10 p.m.? Minors. They take the hit because they can’t fight back.

Saletan notes that such paternalism has already crept into the lives of poor people and the reproductive choices of adult women, offering a warning to any adults who might be tempted to shrug the issue off as “just a kid’s problem.” He does not go so far as to suggest lowering the voting age (nor do I), but echoes the argument made by the Supreme Court of Alaska when it rejected Palin’s written consent requirements. The life-changing impact of pregnancy are too profound for the individual woman to reside under the control of parental whim.

I will take it farther. There are times when parental control is not appropriate at all, especially when the child’s health is endangered or poses a threat to others. Yes, I’m talking about the religious objections to life-saving surgery in favor of “the healing power of prayer” and the pseudo-scientific opposition to vaccinating children. In the former case, saving the life of the child overrides the ideological prescripts of parties whose lives are not endangered. In the latter, the herd immunity of other children at school (and the community at large) overrides specious correlations between autism and vaccination. Fortunately most American parents are reportedly not giving into the autism paranoia.

And, yeah, if ya couldn’t tell, those particular issues have been bugaboos for yours truly. It enrages me that parents have been allowed to let their children die because of religious freedom rights (hey, I thought “the First Amendment isn’t a suicide pact” — but apparently it allows homicide.) As for the autism-vaccination correlation, the bad logic and bad science behind it has not deterred some of my comrades on the left from embracing it as certitude of the medical industry’s perfidy. Then again, these tend to be the same folks who have ascribed to any number of “9-11 truth” conspiracy theories. So why be surprised?

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3 responses to “Maturing Minors and Reproductive Choice

  1. While I am too close to stretching out on the couch for a nap to explain my reasoning, I would like to say that I, for one, support lowering the voting age. I have been known, on occasion, to suggest doing away with a minimum voting age completely…

    One of these days we will discuss this.

  2. I could see lowering it to 16. Or even 12. Little kids tend to just parrot their parents, some of whom would have no compunction against coercing their children’s voting preferences. Then elections would be a competition to see who can herd the most children to the ballot box.

  3. Of course, I have known adults who just parrot Bill O’Reilly… or Jon Stewart…

    How about 13? The right to vote could be a nice coming-of-age responsibility, a democracy bat mitzvah of sorts.