Mostly when we discuss the “right to choose,” we focus on the right to safe and legal access to abortion. We mostly focus abortion as the “choice” because a woman’s right to make her own family planning decisions is constantly under attack from conservative politicians and the anti-abortion movement, both of which are pickled with the Religious Right.
But a woman’s right to make her own family planning decisions also includes the choice make a family — even, in a recent case out of Texas, if the woman in question is a pregnant 16-year-old girl whose parents were trying to force her to have an abortion.
The unnamed teen, called R.E.K. in court documents, sued her mom and dad for their attempts to coerce her into terminating her pregnancy at nine or 10 weeks. The teen wants to carry the pregnancy to term and marry her boyfriend, also 16, who is on board with that plan.
R.E.K.’s parents are less than enthused, to put it mildly. According to Salon.com, R.E.K.’s mom threatened to “slip” her the abortion pill (awful) and take away her phone and her car. R.E.K.’s dad allegedly threatened to give her an “ass whoopin’,” said he would look into canceling her health insurance (double awful), and said “he was going to take her to have an abortion and that the decision was his, end of story.” (Triple awful, OMG.) Her parents also supposedly pulled her out of school and forced her to get two jobs.
The thing is, though, R.E.K.’s dad was not wrong, exactly, in thinking that he could control his minor daughter’s reproductive right. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 26 states have some form of parental consent laws for abortion, which require teenagers to get a parent or guardian’s consent to terminate a pregnancy. Additionally, 12 other states have parental notification laws, which require a parent or guardian to be informed about the abortion prior to the procedure. Anti-abortion activists (and even some pro-choice activists) claim that parents should be informed of all medical decisions for a minor. What these defenders conveniently forget is that requiring a parent’s consent means a parent can say “no.” That pushes scared, panicked pregnant teens to go further underground to try and hide their abortion. That creates dangerous situations. And most egregiously, that sets up the precedent that for a young woman that she is not the person who gets to make decisions about what happens to her body.
Anyway, R.E.K. joined forces with the Texas Center for the Defense of Life, sued her parents in family court, and won an injunction against them. The court said the parents could not restrict her access to her car to force her not to have an abortion and she will be able to use it to drive to school, work, and doctor’s appointments. Her parents have backed off, promising not to follow through with any of their retaliatory threats. Anti-choicers are thrilled with their “a baby’s life has been saved!” outcome — and so are pro-choicers, because they said the decision underscored the belief that its no one’s right to make a decision for a woman’s body other than the woman herself.
I am quite curious as to whether R.E.K.’s parents are going to help support their daughter, once she is married and presumably an emancipated minor, and their future grandchild. While their alleged threats were without questions manipulative and douchey, there’s a part of me that understands where they are coming from in their desire to see their daughter graduate from high school before she has her first kid. I’m personally of the opinion that planning parenthood in one’s life is best, rather than the “Oh, shit, I’m a sophomore in high school and pregnant” approach. (And I say this as someone whose father dropped out of college to have his first kid.) I can see from the parents’ point-of-view how they think she is making a poor decision about her future, which — assuming they financially support her use of car/health insurance/phone — could affect them financially, too, hence why they pulled her out of school and made her get jobs. Yes, they were super shitty in how they tried to coerce her. But I also understand the source of their freakout as human beings (while still emphatically disagreeing with how they handled it). And I’m slightly curious why R.E.K. has not been placed into foster care, seeing as their retaliation against her is so severe. Oh, Texas.
I agree no one’s parents or government should make reproductive health decisions for them. I’m curious, though, of the broader precedent this will set and how this affects the way we think about teenagers’ right to choose. What do y’all think?
Contact the author of this post at Jessica@TheFrisky.com. Follow me on Twitter.