Maryland School District Violates Pregnant Students’ Rights

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.

0 thoughts on “Maryland School District Violates Pregnant Students’ Rights

  1. Christine

    My response to the dentist argument is a teenager does not need permission to give birth. I find the right to give birth and the right to not are on more equal platforms than the right to go to the dentist. Although quite frankly, maybe I am a baby, but I find having a untreated root canal to be torture (I also find forcing someone to give birth torture). But I am a just a sensitive tree hugger, what do I know?

    Reply
  2. brandann

    “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.”

    bingo!

    if you are working your ass off to have an open and honest relationship based on facts and trust, you don’t have to worry about if she is going to tell you something. if instead of trying to control every little thing she does and shaming her on your own moral compass, you try being honest w/ her, you don’t have to impede on the rights of countless human beings…she will come to you gladly for help and advice. so far it works w/ me and mine.

    and i second that Christine makes an excellent point. as a fellow tree hugger, knowing full well that giving birth is the single most athletic feat your body will ever endure, and how it changes you forever, forced birth is torture…a fetus comes out eventually whether we want it to or not…we sure as hell have a right to decide how and when.

    Reply
  3. akeeyu

    My husband thinks parental notification and ‘permission’ for abortions is obscene. “Uh, if the parents deny the abortion and the girl has a baby, that baby won’t be THEIR responsibility, it will be HER responsibility. So why the fuck is it their business?”

    When I was growing up, 16 year olds weren’t allowed to get their own ears pierced without parental consent, but if they had babies, they could sign the paperwork to have their babies’ ears pierced.

    In a similar vein, since the fundies are so hell bent on establishing the rights of fetuses over the rights of women, why in the world would they allow anyone else to interfere with the sacred right of the fetus to access prenatal care? If a pregnant teenager must notify her parents and seek permission for OB/GYN care, doesn’t it follow that they could say NO, thereby blocking access to prenatal care?

    A while ago, I told my husband that if his daughter ever came to me for help, I’d take her to planned parenthood for medical care or birth control, if that was what she wanted. “And I wouldn’t tell you about it if she asked me not to.” He was a little taken aback by this idea, but sees the value of maintaining her trust and health over the value of any potential right to know.

    Reply
  4. Mimi

    I completely agree with your points here – it scares me so much to keep hearing about these new laws coming in and infringing on women’s (and minor’s) rights. It’s all completely backwards…
    I was honestly relieved to turn 18 and know that I could access Plan B over the counter and obtain an abortion without telling my parents.
    I feel for the students at this school. I know how hard it can be to try to fight the school administration, they often think they can get away with anything since their students are still children.

    Reply
  5. NewsCat

    You know I think you are correct that a lot of parents (not just fathers) have unexpressed ideas that their children’s bodies are technically “theirs.” Dan Savage actually expressed this in a podcast once to say that after the age of consent, a teenager has a legal “right” to have sex, with or without his or her parent’s permission.

    I hadn’t really ever heard it expressed that way before but I realized it was kind of true.

    Reply
  6. Jonah Horowitz

    I think the criticism of parental notification laws misses the point. The point of these laws are to restrict access to abortion, and the people pushing the laws have found that this is one way to do it. They could care less about the parent-child relationships, what they want is fewer legal abortions. It’s the death by a thousand cuts argument.

    Reply
  7. Cara Post author

    Jonah, I agree that this is the “point” of th law. What I don’t agree with is that all of the people who think that the law is a good idea — including moderates and some who claim to be pro-choice — have this goal in mind.

    Reply
  8. Rai Sue

    On a slightly different note on parents having “ownership” over their minor children’s bodies, think about the fact that parents can still sign their minor children (once they are 17 years)into indentured servitude to the U.S. military. Even if the 17 year old protests, or tries to get out of it when s/he turns 18, the military doesn’t release them. Thus, a parent can literally sign their child over into dangerous servitude. !! Of course, once the child is in the military, one of the ways for women to get out is to become pregnant.

    Reply
  9. Mia

    This is amazing- how can people be so closed minded? people, no matter age, race, sex/orentation have rights…novel thought i know.

    I was always (and still am) having safe sex, but it was so nice after i turned 18 to know the government could not give rights to my body over to my parents any longer. once i hit the 18 marker i was sighing, knowing if something when wrong-i would be the one to deal with it, how and when i choose NOT MY PARENTS.

    anti-choice folks tend to get on my nerves- i always feel as if my life, and how i choose to live my life is up for debate- as if they somehow think they can make better (ie the “right”) choice for me and would gladly go about livnig my life for me- really it makes me sick. my body, my life, my choice. back the fuck off.

    Reply
  10. dew

    I think this all stems from the way our culture infantalizes people who are biologically adults. The whole concept of teenagers is a recent invention (around the 1920s, I think) and before that, people were kids and then they were young adults. I’m not advocating for 12 year olds to be married off and start having babies at 13 like they used to. But once people are pubescent, they become interested in sex. It’s a fact of life that we try to pretend doesn’t exist. Not to mention that we’re pumping all sorts of hormones into the food so that 9 year olds are getting breasts, and then we’re surprised when 17 year olds have sex. If we respected the idea that teens are sexual beings and educated them about how to be sexual in healthy ways, more teens would have protected sex. And when they did get pregnant, they wouldn’t be hiding the result in shame. And they wouldn’t as often end up sexually dysfunctional when they got to college (and freedom) because they had internalized that sex is bad. I read somewhere that in Iceland, it’s common and expected that a woman will have her first child BEFORE marriage. What’s wrong with that? We judge women who do that in the U.S. We need big changes in our cultural perceptions of sex in general.

    Oh, and I have to say that the sorts of parents who are always telling their kids “until you’re 18 blah blah” are the ones who don’t prepare their kids for adulthood. They just overprotect and control them and then release them into the world with no personal skills in general, not to mention no sex education.

    Reply
  11. Sara

    I’m from Howard County, and I’m frankly surprised that this is going on. It doesn’t sound like the liberal county that I grew up in (thanks, Columbia, for being a great hometown!). I’m also surprised that being pregnant does not automatically make a minor emancipated, at least not in Maryland. Apparently it does in some states. Of course, if she is pregnant and wants to get married, she can go to a doctor and as long as she’s pregnant and/or has given birth, she can get herself emancipated and marry the dude.

    Seriously, aren’t we done with treating our girls like property? It seems to me that if a girl is pregnant, she should have the right to live as an emancipated minor if she wants, without going to the courts to prove her case. Our children should have full rights and ownership to their own bodies, over and above any alleged rights that parents have to consider them property.

    If you deny your dog vet treatment, you can go to jail, but you have the right to deny your child obstetric and family planning services, and no one blinks? What is wrong with this picture?

    Reply
  12. Cara Post author

    Oh, and I have to say that the sorts of parents who are always telling their kids “until you’re 18 blah blah” are the ones who don’t prepare their kids for adulthood. They just overprotect and control them and then release them into the world with no personal skills in general, not to mention no sex education.

    You trying to tell me something, Dew? 😉

    And signthelist, that is some pretty awesome propaganda.

    Reply
  13. Black Canseco

    lemme see if i got this one straight”

    i can be a parent, raise a child, make all the sacrifices it takes to be a parent but my teenager can decide to do something probably knowing full well that i would disagree with and i’m not supposed to know? and furthermore the school is gonna side with the rights of my 13-17 year old daughter over my right as a parent?

    and i’m the one that’s out of line for wanting to be involved here?

    terrific.

    and signthelist: when my 16 year old daughter can make her bed without being asked, pay her own bills and can stop telling me what an old man i am for not letting her leave the house with the top of her thong exposed over the jeans she can’t even afford without my help i’ll happily emancipate her.

    until then, i’m looking out for my kid and taking active role in her life–that’ll include wanting to know if she’s pregnant and who did it.

    this ain’t Juno, folks. some rich white couple isn’t riding to the rescue from the PennySaver section to adopt.

    this is real life. and sure some parents molest their kids. some adults take advantage of kids. But the smartest teenage girl is still a teenager and the sooner we stop acting like our kids’ cheerleaders and best friends and more like parents the better off our kids will be.

    and for everyone out her who thinks teen girls have the right to hide sort of thing from their parents–i’ll take you to my old neighborhood–there’s some teen mothers who hid this nugget of info from their folks; and now they’d like your help in raising their children.

    Reply
  14. Black Canseco

    another thing: all the liberal feminists that want so badly for teen girls to be able to do whatever they want ought to consider doing something i do–be teacher and a neighbor and listen to 20-something year old women who wishes they had somebody telling them, “hey you might want to thing this one thru and talk to your parents” instead of being told that every adult is out to get them and that grown men pass laws because deep down inside they’re all afraid of their womanhood.

    one more thing: i’m from chicago and dan savage doesn’t know illinois law. age of consent is 18 in chicago–everything lower is statutory rape; but it’s seldom prosecuted unless there’s an absurdly wide age gap with the participants.

    which gives me an idea: if a teen girl can get an abortion whenever she wants and the parents should stay out of it; then i’m gonna tell my kid that she’s right and her and her friends should in fact be able to sleep with whomever they choose regardless of the partner’s age even; in fact, none of what they do with their bodies is none of my business, because hey, “it’s her body” and i should respect her wishes.

    i’m just a nosy oppressive parent. and a fundie, too.

    bonus!

    Reply
  15. Sunder

    Actually, I think it has less to do with the infantilizing of teens, and more to do with very, very old cultural ideas of offpring = property. The pro-notification arguments sound to my ears a lot like the arguments I get from clients re striking their children, “You can’t tell me what to do with MY kid!” The “my” becomes the equivalent of the “my” in the phrases “my boots,” “my house,” “my desk,” etc. & I’ll never forget the time I reviewed a file, noticed a reference to “the disposition of the property” in the parties’ divorce–and upon reading more closely, discovered the judge was talking about the children! These people got divorced in the ’80s! Those old attitudes are very much alive, alas.

    Reply
  16. Cara Post author

    another thing: all the liberal feminists that want so badly for teen girls to be able to do whatever they want ought to consider doing something i do–be teacher and a neighbor and listen to 20-something year old women who wishes they had somebody telling them, “hey you might want to thing this one thru and talk to your parents” instead of being told that every adult is out to get them and that grown men pass laws because deep down inside they’re all afraid of their womanhood.

    It is extraordinarily common for abortion clinics to counsel girls to talk to their parents in situations where the girl does not claim abuse and to listen to them and their reasons why they wouldn’t want to tell them. Which puts them about 50 steps ahead of you.

    which gives me an idea: if a teen girl can get an abortion whenever she wants and the parents should stay out of it; then i’m gonna tell my kid that she’s right and her and her friends should in fact be able to sleep with whomever they choose regardless of the partner’s age even; in fact, none of what they do with their bodies is none of my business, because hey, “it’s her body” and i should respect her wishes.

    If your daughter is old enough to consent, then yes, she should be able to sleep with whoever she wants, and it is in fact none of your business. If she is not old enough to consent, maybe you should be more concerned with punishing the man raping or trying to rape her, instead of whining about how she’s a slut and you deserve the right to punish her? Just a thought.

    i’m just a nosy oppressive parent. and a fundie, too.

    Well at least you’re self-aware. If you’d like further insight into your own psyche, see Sunder’s comment.

    Reply
  17. secondhandsally

    It scares me how many people seem to believe that just because you’re under the age of 18, you don’t have the right to privacy. Like you believe, I think, Cara, I think examining our attitudes towards minor women and reproduction as the property of their parents and the government (through the school) exposes frightening attitudes that some people have for both women and children in general.

    Reply
  18. Jack Weber

    While I agree with what you are saying, I would like to point out that there is an alternative to “leaving a baby in a dumpster”: Maryland has “safe haven” laws in place, so a newborn may be relinquished no-questions-asked to a fire station, hospital, police station, or EMS worker. The baby will be taken to a hospital and cared for. These laws must be made known to young girls who feel they’ve run out of options.

    Reply
  19. rich

    “Of course, if she is pregnant and wants to get married, she can go to a doctor and as long as she’s pregnant and/or has given birth, she can get herself emancipated and marry the dude.”

    I was under the impression that a woman under the age of 17 or 18, depending on the state, requires parental consent for marriage regardless of being pregnant. In other words, the parental right to consent to an underage marriage supersedes the right to emancipation, if the purpose of the emancipation is to get married. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    Also, would automatic emancipation due to pregnancy be to the detriment or benefit of the teen? I only ask because I am unfamiliar with laws concerning parents’ obligation to care for their underage daughter’s child, if such an obligation exists. And if said obligation exists, and emancipation automatically severs that obligation, wouldn’t the girl and her child be left in a more difficult situation? This question would be irrelevant if unquestioning parental support and/or unquestioning support of a significant other was a given, or the teen in question is already self-sufficient, but obviously these conditions are often times not there.

    The answer to this seems relevant to issues of right to notification. While I generally support a teen’s right to privacy when it comes to something like pregnancy and access to health services related to STDs, contraception, abortion, etc., I wonder if this might cloud the issue a bit.

    Reply
  20. brandann

    “i can be a parent, raise a child, make all the sacrifices it takes to be a parent but my teenager can decide to do something probably knowing full well that i would disagree with and i’m not supposed to know? and furthermore the school is gonna side with the rights of my 13-17 year old daughter over my right as a parent?

    and i’m the one that’s out of line for wanting to be involved here?”

    so you want a cookie for doing what parents are supposed to do? being a parent, raising a child and all that does take sacrifices, and no one should ever have to enter into that in any situation except of their own free will. including our children.

    maybe you should take cara’s advice, and take a good long look at the relationship you have w/ your kid. if your kid isn’t telling you something there is probably a damn good reason…if she doesn’t feel comfortable coming to you for help then maybe you need to reevaluate how you interact w/ her. if parents stop acting like wardens of morals and maybe spend a little more time cheerleading and listening perhaps their children would come to them first…give them the tools…one of the rights of being a teenager is the right to screw up…and we as parents need to be ready to guide them through it. but is should be guidance, not damage control. spend some more time trying to be there for them. if you want to be involved, do it, and start young enough to build the foundation.

    stop counting on laws to do what you are supposed to be doing anyway.

    re: sunder, great points! yes they are our children, but they are not our property! i wish more parents would see the value of treating their children w/ the respect they need. instead of acting like property owners w/ trophies to show off, maybe try a little interaction…i have worked full time my Kid’s whole life and can still manage to have an awesome relationship w/ her. sure, she is still a kid and needs guidance, but instead of telling her what to think and decide i give her the tools she needs to do it for herself.

    Reply
  21. Cara Post author

    Thanks, Deborah, that’s interesting. Of course, the thing is that if the girl comes forward, her parents are notified, but if the guy comes forward his parents are notified . . . and I can only assume that her’s would be, too, correct? So the guy has the potential to not be implicated at all, while the girl always gets the short end of the stick.

    Of course, I understand that you’re not exactly promoting this as some kind of benefit of the policy. Just musing on how even when they try to make these policies “equal” (when they would still be bogus, regardless), they’re not.

    Reply
  22. Brooke

    Well I was 18 when I got pregnant, 19 when I had my daughter and I never told my mother. I decided I would rather not hear her tell me I was a failure for having a child at “such a young age”. I can only imagine what these teenagers feel, at 16 I was scared to death of anyone outside my circle of friends knowing I was having sex, let alone how I would have reacted if I had gotten pregnant. I don’t think self inducing a miscarriage would have been a possibility, even if it is a dangerous one.

    Reply
  23. kelly

    I am actually 15 and I’m having my baby next month.
    I am so glad my mom doesnt have any rights over my baby, she uses those say old lines “your my kid, you have no rights. Your not a mother, you’re a pregnant teen”

    Now she has to face the fact that this is my own baby daughter, and if she thinks she can control my rights over her, she can go to hell.

    Reply

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