March 8, 2006 — -- Stephanie de la Riva was one day shy of her 17th birthday when she found out she was pregnant.
"You never think it's going to happen to you," she said. "You just stand there with the thermometer pregnancy test in your hand."
Unmarried, Stephanie was faced with a decision between delivery or abortion. But in Texas and in 34 other states around the country, it is not her decision alone to make.
These states all have laws requiring parental notification or even consent in advance of any abortion. In Texas, an abortion provider must notify a minor's parents no less than 48 hours before the scheduled operation.
And now, according to a study by Baruch College researchers that was published today in the New England Journal of Medicine, those laws seem to be having a significant impact decreasing the rate of abortions among minors.
Ted Joyce, an economics professor at Baruch, said their study "found that the law in Texas is associated with a decrease in abortion rates." Moreover, he said, "We were able to measure these kids in more detail than has ever been done before."
The study dealt with the two years after the law's enactment in 2000. The findings:
Among 15-year-olds, abortions declined by 11 percent.
Among 16-year-olds, abortions declined by 20 percent.
Among 17-year-olds, abortions declined by 16 percent.
Advocates of the notification law say this could not have been possible without the notification law. Texas State Sen. Florence Shapiro, who sponsored the legislation, said, "when I heard almost six years before I passed the law that a child could make that decision alone, I was appalled. I was very upset as a mother, as a woman first, and as a mother and a grandmother."
Shapiro calls her bill a "parental rights law."
"My goal was always involving the parent and the parents' rights, and the safety of the child," she said.
But on that last point, the survey in the Journal had some disturbing statistics. It found that among 17-and-a-half-year-old girls, abortions in the second trimester rose by a troubling 34 percent, meaning that these girls were purposely putting off their procedures until they became 18 when the notification law would no longer apply to them.
Lawrence Finer of the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research group that specializes in reproductive issues, told The Associated Press that the study "draws attention to the way that these kinds of laws can put teens in a compromised position that puts their health at risk."
Susan Hayes, a Dallas lawyer and co-founder of the advocacy group Jane's Due Process Inc., said this means the 17-and-a-half-year-olds are "delaying access to health care because of the barriers the law puts into place."
Moreover, critics of the law believe it is an unnecessary intrusion into the lives of minors because the rates of abortion have been declining for years.
"Women who are facing unplanned pregnancies probably do choose abortion less because there is less of a stigma on single motherhood than there was 30 years ago," added Hayes.
As for Stephanie de la Riva, she believes the law made her stop and think. "If it didn't require me to have a parent with me, and I would have gotten an abortion and I did manage to get an abortion, I know I would have regretted it."
She decided eventually to keep her baby -- due next month.