1. Florida Politics

PolitiFact Florida: Rubio claim on minors, tattoos and abortions is off

Published Aug. 17, 2015

Teenagers getting inked apparently are subject to greater parental say than those getting an abortion, according to U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

Rubio joined other Republicans in criticizing Planned Parenthood amid the release of videos by an antiabortion group that accuse the group of brokering fetal tissue for profit. He's also among those who voted to defund Planned Parenthood, a measure that failed to get the required 60 Senate votes to advance.

Rubio raised concerns about nationwide access to abortions for minors in a recent interview.

The idea that a minor "cannot get a tattoo without parental consent, but can get an abortion without parental consent, is just mind-shattering for the vast majority of Americans," Rubio said. "People who believe that a young child, a minor, should be able to get an abortion easier than a tattoo — they are the extremists."

We decided to fact-check whether minors need parents' permission to get tattoos but don't for abortions.

First, the laws about parental consent for abortion and tattoos vary from state to state, so it's not possible to make a blanket statement as Rubio did and apply it to the whole country.

According to data compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 45 states have laws prohibiting minors from getting tattoos, with the majority of those states allowing it with parental consent. Florida law requires written, notarized consent of a minor's parent or legal guardian in order to tattoo a minor.

As for whether minors need parents' permission to obtain abortions, there are two categories of parental involvement. One is consent, which means a parent has to sign off, while the other one is notification, which means the parent simply receives a letter or a phone call.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a group that tracks abortion policy and statistics, a majority of states require consent or notification. In 38 states, minors either have to get consent or notify their parents, while in 12 states they don't need either.

Alex Conant, a spokesman for Rubio, pointed to seven states that require parental consent for a tattoo but not for an abortion: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New York and Vermont. That includes two states that flat-out ban tattoos for minors: California and Maine. So, that leaves five states that require parental consent for tattoos but have no parental involvement on abortions.

There are some states that require only parental notification for abortion but do require consent for tattoos — for example, Florida. A Florida teenager doesn't need her parents' permission to get an abortion but does for a tattoo. In addition to Florida, the other states in this category are Colorado, Delaware, Minnesota, South Dakota and West Virginia.

So in all, Rubio has a point for about 11 states.

Complicating matters is the concept of "judicial bypass." The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states may not give parents an absolute veto over whether daughters have an abortion, so 37 states allow a minor to receive court approval for an abortion without parents' knowledge or consent.

Judicial bypass could increase the number of states where Rubio's scenario would be valid. A spokeswoman for Americans United for Life told PolitiFact that even in states with stringent requirements, a minor can bypass parental consent requirements if she can demonstrate to a court that she is either mature enough to make an abortion decision or that obtaining parental consent is not in her best interest.

Helena Silverstein, a government and law professor at Lafayette College who wrote the 2007 book Girls on the Stand: How Courts Fail Pregnant Minors, suggested that rather than compare parental consent for tattoos with abortion, it is more useful to compare other minors' consent laws on sexual and reproductive health. All states allow minors to consent to get treatment for sexually transmitted infections, while 32 states allow minors to consent to prenatal care without their parents' permission.

As for Rubio's statement — "a minor cannot get a tattoo without parental consent but can get an abortion without parental consent" — he has a good argument for about 11 states. But that's a minority. More commonly, laws require parental notification — and, in many cases, consent — for a minor to have an abortion. There is a significant exception, however: 37 states allow a minor to go through a judge without notifying parents. As for tattoos, most states ban them for minors or require parental consent. We rate Rubio's claim Half True.

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