A school district in Maryland has instituted a policy of informing parents of a student’s pregnancy regardless of that student’s wishes.
A revised regulation that directs Howard County school officials to notify parents when students reveal they are pregnant has drawn criticism from health experts who say it violates a young woman’s right to privacy and jeopardizes health care.
The policy and accompanying procedures appear to be among the strictest in the region.
Health experts say that students’ willingness to seek care will decline.
“There’s no question this will have a chilling effect on kids coming forward,” said County Health Officer Peter Beilenson. “It’s going to slow down health care.”
Howard’s policy “really pushes the issue of informing the parents, when state law says minors have the right to make decisions independent of the parents,” said Deborah Chilcoat, an education and training specialist for Planned Parenthood of Maryland and co-chair of a county coalition on adolescent sexuality and reproductive health. “It’s not going to be in the best interests of young people in Howard County,” she said.
And here’s the thing: the new rule isn’t only ill-advised, stupid and potentially dangerous. It’s also pretty clearly against the law.
Maryland’s minor consent law, which applies to those younger than 18, says teenagers do not have to inform parents to receive health services, including pregnancy testing, contraceptives and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
[. . .]
“We wanted to make it clear: If the student does not tell the parents, the school system will advise the parents,” Aquino said. “Parents have a right to that information.”
Mark Blom, the system’s general counsel, said school health offices should not be regarded as clinical settings, where the state’s minor consent law would apply.
Ah, I see now. We’re working under the ridiculous assumption that fundamental rights end the minute you walk into school. And while I am totally cool with minor infringements, like restricting speech insofar as to disallow hate language (i.e. racial, sexual, gender and religious slurs), I do think that one’s health care rights are a little bit different. Because, strangely enough, while I think that schools have some duty to protect their students, I also think that teenagers are people.
For me, this is what these kinds of questions come down to. Are minor teenagers people with rights just like the rest of us? I believe that they are. Should parents have some rights over their teenage children? Sure. Do I think that parental rights over their teenagers should significantly exceed the teenagers’ own rights? Or that teenagers are property that parents have the right to control? Absolutely not.
And I don’t think that this is an exaggeration, to say that some parents view their teenagers as property, especially daughters. I remember arguing with my father when I was 17 about not being able to be alone with my damn boyfriend — rules that strangely enough, have not applied to my younger brothers. I was telling him in the most diplomatic way possible that he was being a controlling, misogynistic ass. I remember saying that I wasn’t planning on having sex, and that if I was planning on having sex, it was my body and none of his damn business. He strongly disagreed, and outright told me (paraphrased as best as I remember) “until you’re 18, you’re my responsibility and what you do with your body is my decision.”
He was unapologetic, and I was shocked. I think that I always knew he felt that way, but he’d never actually said it out loud before. And somehow, looking at the hysteria of parental notification laws, comprehensive sex education, free condoms, etc., I don’t think that my father is the only one, even if I do think that he was more honest than most who feel that way.
The thing is that these girls are getting fucked over on every count. You can bet that the school isn’t going to demand the name of the father, and then call his parents if that boy is a student. Because what boys do with their penises is almost always ultimately up to boys. And these pregnant teens aren’t exactly going to “get away” with not telling their parents, anyway. Maryland has a parental notification law. So teens who cannot prove abuse have to either tell their parents in the hopes of procuring an abortion (if they want one), or tell their parents the truth because they’re eventually going to have a baby on their hands. The other option is quite literally to leave the newborn in a dumpster — which, by the way, I have argued is an unlikely but sadly not too far fetched outcome. In this school district, pregnant girls who confide in school officials haven’t just had their rights taken from them by the government; they’re also now facing the disrespect of being disallowed the right to decide when and how to tell their parents.
Those who support parental notification laws have always struck me as either clueless or terrifying. This was driven home the other week, when I attended a Roe anniversary event. Of course, there were protesters outside, and when I saw them on TV the next day, I heard them making up lies about the NY reproductive privacy bill. One of the people was standing there on the sidewalk in the freezing fucking cold with a giant fetus sign, saying to the reporter that “a 12-year-old girl would be able to go and have an abortion without her parents ever knowing, even though she couldn’t do the same with a dentist appointment!”
I laughed bitterly and thought, “people like you are precisely the reason why we need those laws.” I don’t understand how people could not see that, while watching the zealous woman with a giant fetus sign. How could you possibly look at and listen to such a person and not think “dear god, we need these protections to keep daughters like her’s safe”?
But instead, more often than not, people seem to fall for the damn dentist line, or something vague about “parents have a right to know.” Personally, I feel that if your daughter is pregnant and doesn’t tell you, you should probably be taking a stronger look at your relationship with your child than at the law. And while busy thinking about “what if it was my daughter,” one important thing is almost always forgotten. Unlike with abortion, parents very rarely forbid their child the right to a root canal.