REVIEW: Parental Rights in Peril

The ongoing encroachment upon and usurpation of parental rights vis-à-vis their children is an expanding phenomenon. This book, the product of a 2021 conference at Franciscan University, is a collection of papers by 13 authors (e.g., Cathy Ruse, Patrick Lee, Anne Hendershott, Michael Farris, and more) addressing the philosophical and American legal foundations of parental rights before tackling four major areas in which they are under attack. The latter include medical issues broadly understood (efforts to restrict parental knowledge about adolescent healthcare and physical exams, abortion, and transgenderism); education (with specific focus on sex education and attacks on homeschooling); child protective services (the rationale behind its almost unchecked power to intervene in families’ lives, with specific attention to poor and minority families); and the broader issue of social welfare policy (whose effect has been to weaken the American family and enhance governmental power through economic dependency). 

Readers of this journal are likely to be most interested in the subversion of parental rights in the medical arena. Among the corrosive consequences of Roe v. Wade was the erosion of the principle that any medical intervention involving a minor child required parental consent, normally prior to a procedure. Abortion became the Über-Recht, able to overturn long-established legal principles in a single bound. For instance, a school won’t give a child an aspirin without reams of parental consent forms but conspires to provide “access” to abortion behind a veil of parental ignorance. 

Justification for nullifying parental consent took three basic forms: 1) “public health” (i.e., the state using its police powers to carve out whole swaths of “sensitive” medical decisions, including abortion, contraception, venereal disease treatment, and transgender “medicine” as well as sex education that approves them); 2) the “mature minor,” who should be able to make decisions that have a lifelong medical impact on them (as opposed to the life-altering consequences of a Tylenol); and 3) the “autonomy” argument that basically pits children’s “rights” as “autonomous moral agents” against parents, whose “no” earns the default suspicion of “abusive.” 

What began with abortion has expanded to venereal disease treatment, including HIV prophylaxis (parents need not be informed their minor child may be put on a lifelong anti-HIV drug regime), and is now joined over access to “gender-affirming medical care” that leaves children sterile and physically mutilated. With the reversal of Roe, it is critical that the aberration of parental non-consent/non-information be explicitly overturned before it further metastasizes across minor medical care.

While readers may focus on medical issues, Michael Farris makes a compelling argument that what really underlies attacks on parental rights is the state’s growing claim to impose—usually subtly and by soft power—a particular worldview alien to parents (and much of the Judeo-Christian heritage of Western culture). It’s no mistake that current fights swirl around school boards.

Overall, almost all the essays are thorough, solid, and deep. Every parent needs to read this book and put it into the hands of other parents. It deserves wide distribution.

Parental Rights in Peril by Stephen M. Krason, ed., Steubenville: Franciscan University Press, 2022, 254 pp.

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About the author

John M. Grondelski

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