Parental Rights Are Not Just about Which School

Health care and education activists wrongly claim to be parents’ partners

I recently argued that “National School Choice Week” should be renamed “National Parental Choice Week” (link below). I did so because I want to recast the educational debate. School choice is not primarily about schools but about students. Schools are secondary. They are the tools by which students are educated. But education is for students and, therefore, so should be the educational dollars that make that education possible. The subjects of the debate are students, not schools. Focusing on schools sometimes leads to going down rabbit holes about schools, church/state, the priority of public schools, etc. Cutting all that away and re-centering the issue squarely on the person of the student seems to boost the potential to stay focused on the heart of the issue.

But I will also admit a secondary motive to why I want to recast the observance. As much as I affirm that parental choice in education is vital — because parents are the primary educators of their children — so also I am concerned that the erosion of parental rights has not been limited just to education. Parental rights are under assault in a variety of ways. Stephen Krason’s Parental Rights in Peril [link here] details that systematic assault. And one area it’s prominent in is healthcare.

It all started — as most contemporary American social rot does — with Roe v. Wade. In the wake of the Court’s unprecedented legalization of abortion-on-demand, invalidating almost the entire legal regime regulating that procedure, Missouri adopted legislation requiring parental consent for a minor to obtain an abortion. In 1975, that was not controversial; no school would provide medication to a child without parental consent. If you couldn’t give the kid an aspirin, you couldn’t give her an abortion.

They didn’t reckon with Harry Blackmun.

In Planned Parenthood v. Danforth, the Supreme Court struck down the Missouri consent requirement. At the very minimum, the Court imposed a “judicial bypass” requirement, i.e., if the parent(s) say no, a judge can let a “mature” teenager get the abortion. (If she was “mature,” she wouldn’t need the abortion.) Over the decades, the modified consent requirement was further eroded in various states, raising questions of whether a parent even has a right to be notified of a minor child’s intended abortion. Planned Parenthood, which obviously has financial incentives in this area, parsed this question a thousand ways to Sunday. The medieval theologians rumored to have debated how many angels could dance on the head of a pin looked like intellectual slugs next to them. Could another “relative” substitute for the consent or notification? A “friend?” Maybe even Planned Parenthood?

Once the camel poked his nose under the tent, votaries of the sexual revolution pressed the erosion of parental healthcare rights ever further. After abortion, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases soon followed. Then came “medical privacy” for teens: at a certain age, your pediatrician won’t talk to you about a teenager’s issues without his consent and/or presence. (He will, however, send you the bill without either. And, of course, a child harmed by judicial bypass would not have been cared for that night by Harry Blackmun and Thurgood Marshall). As Krason’s book points out, you as a parent in an emergency situation would not know what medications your child may be taking — with all the dangerous implications flowing from contraindications — because of these veils of secrecy.

Have you also noticed this intrusion into parental rights is almost completely in the area of sex? They arrogate exceptions to parental rights in the areas of abortion, venereal diseases, and other sex-related issues. Regardless, I still complete a plethora of forms at the start of the school year as to whether my child can receive even physician-prescribed medication in school.

What’s awakened parents today is how this sexually-correlated “healthcare” erosion of parental rights is now being used to attack those rights through “gender” ideology. The healthcare attack on parental rights has joined in an unholy alliance with schools. Various schools [example here] assert a right to rename your child and allow him to conduct an alternate “identity” during school hours absent your consent or even knowledge. Parents have rightly said: Basta! Enough!

I have repeatedly argued that, in preparing the legislative foundations of a post-Dobbs world, one of the first things pro-lifers should have done (and still should do) is — with Roe and the jurisprudence on which it depended happily dead — press for parental notification and/or consent laws in every state. Even in Democrat states where a legislature might not agree, having to vote to abridge parental rights would put lawmakers on record — uncomfortably on record — for attacking parent’s rights. They’d have to admit they think we parents are “domestic terrorists.” Such an effort would show the reasonableness of the parent’s rights and pro-life movements, as well as establish a synergy between them supporting effective political action. Case-in-point: When Nebraska’s legislature ran out of time last year to pass pro-life legislation, it attached pro-life provisions to a “must-pass” bill: a ban on genital mutilation of minors in the name of “transgender surgery.” Both were signed (and upheld by the courts) under the left’s own rubric of “healthcare.”

Raising the visibility of these issues will also highlight the more invidious corruption at the heart of the anti-parental rights program. All these efforts — in “healthcare” and “education” — are predicated on the slogan that these others are parents’ “partners.” None of them are my partners. A parent’s rights do not come from the state. They are natural rights that precede the state. Schools and doctors and “healthcare workers” are working for me as a parent. They are not my parental “partners.” We need to be crystal clear about that distinction, because allowing that bright line to be blurred accounts for why we are in the situation in which we find ourselves.

And it can only get worse. Natural parenthood is likely to be increasingly marginalized because there are ever greater cohorts that will want to “reproduce” via artificial reproduction, especially surrogacy. In such a world, becoming a parent the “natural way” will increasingly be called “privileged,” a “discriminatory preference” to which the law cannot afford special recognition. The consequence will be that, in a sense, every child will have to be “adopted,” i.e., legally recognized as “belonging” to a “parent,” in some way through state action.

That will inevitably insert the state into the parent-child relationship, pitting natural and inalienable parental rights against the coercive police powers of the state. We already see this in regulations and legislation, on the federal and state levels, to declare potential foster and/or adoptive parents “unfit” unless they “affirm” their readiness to genitally mutilate the child in their care. Judges have used that argument to deny the “non-affirming” parent child custody in divorce cases. Some legislators [see here] have already broached even making natural parents’ refusal to do so grounds for state “child protective services” intervention, though they have not prominently pushed this line out of fear of letting that feral cat out of the bag.

So, in speaking of “National Parental Choice Week,” I admit the importance of schools but also recognize the issues at stake go beyond the classroom. This political marriage augurs great winning potential, something we should not be blind to in this election year when forces will try to present the anti-parent status quo as normal, even desirable. Parents who protested the pornification (a concept originating with Pamela Paul) of their children’s schools and the veil of omertà some schoolboards want to draw over what happens in the classroom are natural allies and will likely find support among the vast majority of parents just waking up to how much their rights and identity are under assault.

Are we up for “National Parental Choice Week?”


[A link to my previous blog post is here.]


John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) was former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey. All views expressed herein are exclusively his.

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