Sooner or later it always comes down to earrings.
At some point in the debate, a legislator, politician or moralist who has never previously shown the slightest interest in the public policy on body piercing will utter the same rhetorical battle cry:"If a teenager can't get her ears pierced without parental consent, why should she be able to get an abortion?"
Frankly, the analogy still escapes me. We are, after all, talking about the realities of reproduction, not jewelry.
Teenagers can have sex (alas) without parental notification. Teenagers can continue a pregnancy, receive prenatal care and indeed deliver a baby without having our names on the hospital permission slip. They can even give the baby up for adoption without our say-so.
Nevertheless, about half the states have passed laws that say there is one thing a teenage girl can't do without the notification or consent of a parent or judge: She can't end her pregnancy.
And now Congress is poised to top that with another little gem.
When they return next week, the House is expected to vote on a bill that would make it a crime to accompany a minor across state lines for an abortion if the requirements of her home state aren't met. A sister, aunt, grandmother or friend who drives a pregnant teenager from a state with parental consent laws to a state without such laws would be a criminal.
This bill is euphemistically called the Child Custody Protection Act, as if strangers all over America were abducting pregnant girls from their homes. It's wrapped in slogans about family and child-parent communication.
Indeed, with all the pro-life pressure and pro-family dressing, Harvard law professor Larry Tribe says, "it is hard to get people to pause, peel back the label and say this is not about protecting parental custody of children at all, but singling out abortion for unique burdens."
How unique? For one thing, the law casually turns the federal system into a pretzel. It says that an American citizen must obey the laws of her home state even when she goes over the state line. That's akin to making it illegal to cross the border in order to drink, gamble or shop on Sunday.
Under the federal system, states are expected to have different laws. Citizens are allowed to vote with their feet.
Today, Iowa has a different idea about how you protect a pregnant minor than neighboring Illinois, and Massachusetts has a different idea than New Hampshire. But under this bill, a citizen of Massachusetts who goes to New Hampshire is still subject to Massachusetts' rules. As Tribe says, "It's not quite imprisoning you within your home state, but it comes pretty close."
One can only imagine the checkpoints for enforcing these laws at the state borders. As Gloria Feldt of Planned Parenthood says, "What are they going to do next? Dogs and searchlights?"
More bizarre is the fact that this law wouldn't make it illegal for the girl herself to cross state lines to get an abortion without involving parents. It would make it illegal for the person - sister, aunt, friend - assisting her.
The most desperate of pregnant teenagers, the very ones who won't talk to their parents, or hassle through the judicial bypass process, will be the ones forced to go it all alone.
Now let me say that I won my merit badge in Raising A Teenager. I wholly understand the gut fear that something is going on in our child's life and we're out of the loop. I understand the fury that comes with knowing someone else could take our daughter through a crisis without our knowledge.
But I also know that most teenage girls - more than 75 percent of those under 16 - have talked to a parent before seeking an abortion. I know some can't or think they can't - and that a third of those who don't notify parents have been victims of family violence. These figures stay the same in states with and without consent laws.
Despite all the ear-piercing rhetoric, this is the bottom line: You can't write a law forcing parent-child communication. That requires a very different set of family skills. It has little to do with earrings and a lot to do with listening.