Although only eight such requests have been made in the past two years, most Utahns believe minor girls should no longer be able to sidestep parental consent by getting a confidential court order for an abortion, a new Deseret Morning News/KSL-TV poll shows.

A bill that would remove the court approval option and force a girl to notify her parents or legal guardian even if she is claiming she is being abused at home is coming before the Legislature this session.

The context of that debate could be altered somewhat by news Thursday that the number of abortions in the United States is at its lowest level since 1974.

Figures released by the widely cited Guttmacher Institute show that abortions are down 25 percent since 1990 when they reached an all-time high of 1.6 million.

The institute's surveys are regarded by abortion advocates and opponents alike as the country's most comprehensive.

According to the Guttmacher data, the number of abortions declined by 8 percent between 2000 and 2005 — to 1.21 million from 1.31 million. The abortion rate of 19.4 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 was down 9 percent from 2000.

A decline in abortions nationwide doesn't alter the steps Rep. Stephen Sandstrom, R-Orem, wants to take in tightening parental controls when a minor is seeking an abortion.

Utah already has one of the lowest abortion rates in the country, and the goal is unless a pregnancy is the result of incest or will clearly puts the mother's health at risk, an abortion should be prohibited, Sandstrom said.

He has the support of most Utahns: Nearly 70 percent of those surveyed in the poll favor no longer allowing a girl to bypass her parent or guardian, and only 26 percent strongly oppose tightening the law. The poll of 413 Utah residents was conducted Jan. 8-10 and has a margin of error of 5 percent.

"I don't think any of us would like to be held to a decision we made as young teens," Sandstrom said. "This is one of the most life-altering decisions anyone could face, and it's just too important not to have the parents or guardian involved."

A state that so strongly believes in parental consent and control in families should require it before a young woman makes such a critical decision — one that involves both the mother and her infant, Sandstorm said.

Bill opponents believe the measure is unconstitutional and only tightens laws in the state with the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, said Missy Larsen, executive director of Planned Parenthood's Action Council. "It will have little effect other than stirring up controversy," she said.

Only eight teens have sought court approval for an abortion, and six of those were denied. Larsen said the better approach would be something more comprehensive, that incorporates everything from abstinence education to more accessible birth control.

"Utah already has one of the lowest abortion rates in the country, and it's not like kids are rushing to the court so they can get abortions," Larsen said. "The important thing is that we prevent these pregnancies from happening in the first place."

Everyone has the same mission — stop teen pregnancy, Larsen added. "If the billion dollars spent on abstinence-only education were working, pregnancies and teen births would be going down. Instead, the opposite is happening."

An all-out abortion ban Sandstrom proposed last session ultimately was sidelined by legislation stating Utah will take steps to limit or ban abortion should the U. S. Supreme Court amend Roe v. Wade. The bill to require parental consent was debated in 2006, however, although it did not pass.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released figures in December showing that the number of teen births increased by 3 percent nationwide between 2005 and 2006 — the first increase since 1991.

The state Department of Health last May released statewide figures showing what public health administrators called an "alarming" rate of teen births in Utah. Some health districts had teen birth rates of more than 90 per 1,000 teens. The average rate of teen births nationwide is about 67, according to the CDC.


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