The Role of Consultants in
Adolescents' Decision Making:
A Focus on Abortion Decisions
Laura L. Finken
Although rates have been declining significantly in recent years, nearly 1 million adolescent girls become pregnant in the United States every year (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1999). Out of all of the developed Western countries, an adolescent girl from the United States has the highest risk of becoming pregnant (Ambuel, 1995). Almost 4 out of 10 teenage pregnancies end in selected abortion (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1999) and adolescents account for nearly one fifth of the abortions performed in the United States (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 2003). Since the Supreme Court's legalization of abortion in 1973, there has been a whirlwind of state legislation designed to progressively restrict access to abortion (for a review, see Limber & Pagliocca, 2000). Currently, the most intense controversy about adolescent abortion revolves around consultation: that is, whether or not minors should be legally required to consult with their parents prior to obtaining an abortion. Thirty-two states have mandatory parental involvement laws in effect for adolescent abortions and another 10 states have laws on the books, although they are not currently enforced (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 2001). Mandatory parental involvement policies indicate that courts do not trust adolescents to choose appropriate consultants (Limber, 1992) and that the courts perceive adolescents as being incapable of making abortion decisions on their own (Adler, Smith, & Tschann, 1998).
As highlighted by the policy debates surrounding adolescent abortion, a central issue surrounding children's and adolescents' judgment is whether or not they are competent to make major life decisions on their own. Curiously,