The personal experiences of Dawn Ravenell, Rachel Ely, Myoshi Callahan, Holly Trimble, and Teresa Wibblesman Fangman are a testament to the very real tragedy that a decision made without the benefit of parental involvement can become for a teenager who is confronted with the frightening and stressful fact of an unexpected pregnancy. Their experiences illustrate all too well some of the physical, emotional, and psychological dangers to the adolescent who makes the abortion decision without any parental involvement.
Dawn Ravenell, a 13-year-old girl from Queens, New York, died tragically in 1985 after undergoing a legal abortion. According to the abortion clinic records, Dawn awoke from the anesthesia during the middle of the abortion and began gagging and choking before going into cardiac arrest. A plastic airway was inserted in her throat and she was again sedated. In the recovery room after the abortion, she awoke, began gagging on the unremoved airway, and went into cardiac collapse. She was rushed to a New York hospital where she later died. In 1990, a jury awarded $1.225 million dollars to her family. The Ravenell’s said they pursued the suit not for the money but for justice. “I wanted to be sure that another child would not suffer the way Dawn did,” Mrs. Ravenell said.1
New York has no parental involvement law so Dawn’s parents were never told about their daughter’s pregnancy or abortion. “It was a horrible situation,” said the family attorney, Thomas Principe. “Here you have a frightened kid in what was really an abortion factory. She was treated like a piece on an assembly line.”2
Rachel Ely was a 17 year-old, unmarried high school student who was afraid to tell her parents that she was pregnant. Rachel had an abortion on the advice of a high school counselor without her parents’ knowledge. Several days after the abortion, Rachel became quite ill and went to another doctor. Thinking the symptoms were not related, she did not tell the doctor about the abortion. Rachel was left permanently paraplegic, forced to use a wheelchair, from a condition they later found was directly attributable to a post abortion surgical infection. Rachel had not been told that there are alternatives to abortion. Had her parents known their daughter was pregnant, they would have provided her with the alternatives of keeping her child, or placing the child for adoption. Had Rachel’s parents known of the abortion, they would have questioned the possible relationship between the abortion and Rachel’s symptoms so that she could get proper treatment quickly.3
Myoshi Callahan was 15 when she had an abortion without her parents’ knowledge or consent. At the clinic, she received no counseling whatsoever and felt her only choice was to have an abortion. As a result of the side effects resulting from the abortion procedure, Myoshi had to have a hysterectomy. Myoshi has since told both parents. They have grieved with her for the loss of life and for the ordeal that their daughter went through alone. Myoshi has no doubt that, if parental involvement in her decision had been mandatory, she would never have had an abortion.4
Holly Trimble was 16 when she became pregnant and decided to have an abortion. Holly’s main purpose for the abortion was so that she would not have to tell her parents about her pregnancy. She did not want to hurt them. Because she did not want to hurt them, Holly could not talk to them about the turmoil of her abortion. Today, Holly deeply regrets her decision. She is certain that, had she been exposed to information about the development of the unborn child at the time of her decision, she would have chosen to carry her baby to term.5
Teresa Wibblesman Fangman was 16 when she learned she was pregnant. Teresa received no alternatives counselling and decided to abort her baby, primarily because she was afraid to tell her parents of her pregnancy. She did not want them to know she had disappointed them. The abortion exacted an extreme emotional toll. Five years later, Teresa’s 15-year-old sister, impregnated on a date rape, went to her parents for help. With their support, she decided to carry her baby to term and then place the child for adoption. Teresa is convinced that, if she had known at the time of her abortion decision how supportive her parents would be to an unexpected pregnancy, she would not have chosen to have an abortion.6
The medical, emotional, and psychological consequences of an abortion performed at any time during pregnancy are serious and can be lasting.7 Parental involvement in the adolescent’s decision-making process helps ensure that the girl is fully aware of the attendant physical, emotional, and psychological risks of an abortion and that these risks are minimized or avoided. Minimizing and avoiding such risks can only be beneficial to the adolescent, her family, and to society as a whole.
1 Herrmann, “$1.225M awarded in girl’s abort death,” New York Daily News, Tuesday, December 11, 1990, p. 13. See also, Carillo, “$1.2M won’t bring her back,” New York Post, Tuesday, December 11, 1990, p. 1 APP BB.
3 Brief Amici Curiae of Focus On The Family, Hodgson v. State of Minnesota, No. 88-1125 and 88-1309 (1989), at App. 1a. APP AA.