The Right to Not Have an Abortion
There’s a stigma that comes with being a teen mom. You may not graduate high school. In less than a year, you may get pregnant again. And eight out of ten teen pregnancy cases do not end up in marriage. But for a 16-year-old teen from Houston, Texas, none of it matters.
She wants her baby. And she will keep it. Despite the odds against her.
According to the teen, her parents tried coercing her to have an abortion. She told the press that after finding out about her pregnancy, her parents took away her phone and her car, pulled her out of school, and made her get two jobs in an effort to make her miserable so that she’d give up and agree to abort her baby. Her mother allegedly threatened to “slip her an abortion pill.” And her father told her he was going to “look into canceling her health insurance.”
Her parents gave her two choices: one, she could “live in misery” in their home, or two, she could “have the abortion and tell everyone it was a miscarriage.”
The teen sought the court’s help to sue her parents and was represented by lawyers from the Texas Center for Defense of Life. In the end, she and her parents reached an agreement and she was “allowed” to go through with the pregnancy. But, as a minor, if the case had gone forward, would she have won?
The press didn’t analyze the legal issues involved. We will.
According to Texas Family Code, a “minor” is a person under 18 years of age who is not and has not been married or removed from custody of her parents. Therefore, except as otherwise provided by judicial order, the parent of the minor retains the right to consent to or refuse medical and surgical treatment. This is because parents are presumably the appropriate decision-makers for their children.
In 1973 the Supreme Court decided the landmark case Roe v. Wade that ruled the right of privacy under the 14th Amendment includes a woman’s right to decide whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. The Court held that in the initial stages of a pregnancy (before the end of the first trimester) a woman is free to make her own choice about abortion without interference from the state. So while this landmark case is usually cited for a woman’s choice to have an abortion, the case goes both ways. It also gives a woman the constitutional right to choose life. In 1979, the Court clarified further in Bellotti v. Baird, that a minor’s decision to have an abortion, or not have an abortion, is hers. The decision must be “free, independent, voluntary, and non-coerced.”
And federal law on the matter trumps the Texas Code.
In January 2012, a 14-year-old from Corpus Christi, Texas sued her family alleging that they were forcing her to have an abortion. The girl sought legal help after she was physically and verbally abused by her grandmother and two cousins who scheduled an appointment for an abortion without her consent. She was able to get an emergency restraining order before the scheduled abortion and move in with a different family member. She wanted to continue with her pregnancy, and did.
The General Counsel for National Institute of Family and Life Advocates claims that a parent who tries to coerce a daughter to have an abortion could be subject to criminal charges in the 37 states that have fetal homicide laws (Texas is one of them). Parents could even be pressed with criminal charges for child abuse or held civilly liable for battery, negligence, or false imprisonment, if a girl is made to have an abortion against her will.
This is not surprising in “right to life” states. But the right holds true even for young women who may be for women’s rights to choose to have abortions. For themselves, however, they’d like to make a different choice. And the law is on their side.