Abortion giant Planned Parenthood has emerged as a vocal opponent of a proposed child marriage ban in California, a state with a solid Democratic majority. Advocates against child marriage gathered at the state Capitol in Sacramento to protest against existing laws, with survivors of forced or child marriages donning wedding dresses, their wrists symbolically tied, and their mouths taped shut, to draw attention to the issue. California, if it moves forward, could be the first state to enact an absolute ban on marriages for children under 18. However, liberal organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the Children’s Law Center, and the American Civil Liberties Union have opposed the legislative proposal.
Planned Parenthood’s opposition is grounded in its concerns that imposing an age requirement for marriage might set a precedent leading to limitations on abortions for minors. While the organization did not respond to Newsweek’s request for comment, it is worried that stringent age restrictions on marriage could inadvertently hinder constitutional rights, including reproductive choices like access to abortion. This stance highlights the ideological and policy complexities at play, particularly in a state that has been a stronghold for liberal causes.
At present, only California and Mississippi lack a minimum age requirement for marriage across the United States. The majority of states stipulate a minimum marriage age of 16 with parental consent, although there are variations nationwide. In California, marriage for minors requires parental or guardian approval and a court order. Critics of child marriage point out that California’s statutory rape law does not criminalize sexual activity between a minor and an adult if they are married.
Planned Parenthood’s spokesperson for California, Jennifer Wonnacott, emphasized the organization’s commitment to safeguarding youth from abuse while asserting that such protections should not infringe upon the reproductive rights of minors. While the organization is concerned about child marriage’s potential implications for reproductive rights, others argue that allowing child marriage could inflict more profound harm on a minor’s sexual health. Unchained At Last, a nonprofit focused on ending forced and child marriages, highlighted that survivors of child marriage often lose sexual and reproductive rights, enduring unwanted pregnancies and childbirth without consent.
Unchained At Last’s research reveals that California witnessed 23,588 child marriages between 2000 and 2018, ranking second behind Texas in terms of the number of child marriages. With the California state Legislature anticipated to attempt passing a child marriage ban without exceptions in the coming year, Democratic Assembly member Cottie Petrie Norris emphasized the gravity of the issue. She described marriage under the age of 18 as a human rights abuse, stressing that even if this practice occurs in the shadows, it remains shocking and horrifying.