To the editors:

Florence Hamlish Levinsohn’s article on parental notification laws [“A Girl in Trouble,” August 17] contains a large number of problematic statements. For the sake of brevity I will comment on three of these.

First of all, she speaks as if service workers involved with helping teens and their families were uniformly opposed to parental notice laws. She should not take the official opinions of professional organizations on this matter to represent the views of every member. All the organizations she cited as submitting anti-notice briefs to the Supreme Court have their dissidents–not all of whom are necessarily opposed to legalized abortion. I refer the reader to the essay by social worker Theodora Ooms in Abortion: Understanding Differences, edited by Daniel and Sidney Callahan and published by Plenum Press in 1984 (a collection I highly recommend to all people of good will who want to learn more about the abortion debate). Ooms, who is basically prochoice, argues for parental notice laws with judicial bypass provisions.

Second, Hamlish Levinsohn repeats the commonplace notion that Becky Bell died of an illegal abortion and hence was a victim of Indiana’s parental consent law. Ms. Bell’s best friend, apparently the only person whom she confided in about the pregnancy, tells a story different from the one put forward by her parents. According to the friend, Ms. Bell was still wondering what to do about her pregnancy when she suffered a miscarriage. Because the miscarriage was incomplete, she suffered a massive infection.

Third, Hamlish Levinsohn construes attorney Ann Louise Lohr’s statement that Americans United for Life regards birth control as a “separate issue” from abortion to mean that AUL not only opposes abortion but birth control and sex education. On the contrary, it takes a neutral position–like many right-to-life groups who must appeal to all the members of a very politically diverse movement, people who often have nothing in common but their opposition to abortion. As for the individual staff members of AUL, I know many of them personally and can confirm that they, particularly some of the women who have leadership roles within the organization, recognize birth control and sex education as necessary alternatives to abortion, along with private and public sector measures to support women who experience unplanned pregnancies. I worked at AUL myself when I was going through a horrendously difficult unplanned pregnancy and found that people on the staff were exceptionally understanding of the problems my child and I faced. For example, I had to be hospitalized several times during the pregnancy, and I received nothing but support. I was never given any trouble about taking time off for this, nor threatened with the loss of my job. When it was time for my daughter to be born, I was reassured that my job would be waiting for me whenever I felt up to working again.

And it was. How many employers in this country–especially given our utter lack of a family leave law–would have behaved this way in this situation? To insinuate, as Hamlish Levinsohn does, that AUL people are callous to the real-life dilemmas of distressed young women is simply not fair. If only she could recognize that people who disagree with her views on abortion might have other motives than cruelty and indifference!

Mary Krane Derr


Feminists for Life of Chicago