Girl Sues Her Parents for the Right to Carry a Pregnancy to Term

In Texas, a 16-year-old girl sued her parents who were pressuring her to abort her pregnancy. She won her case.

While the pressure itself is not illegal (and shouldn’t be, even though it sucks), some of the extreme methods of coercion on which the parents unfortunately relied definitely should be illegal, because these are consistent violations of the daughter’s right to bodily autonomy. The girl’s mother threatened to slip her the morning after pill, which is horrendous, and slipping anyone medication against their will should amount to jail time. The father threatened to physically abuse her, which should also amount to even more jail time. Both parents wanted to take away her phone and her car.

Considering the fact that they pulled her out of school to take two jobs, their concern seems financial. I suppose they are worried their daughter is destroying her life. (She also wants to marry the 16-year-old kid who would be the child’s father, for the record, and he’s agreed.) However, I have no credit to give them for this: it seems if whether her life is destroyed were truly their concern the last thing they would do is deprive her of her resources.

Which brings me to my next point: it is inarguably WRONG, and illegal, to slip the girl medication or physically assault her. But what’s also wrong is to take away things that have been given to her.

I don’t doubt that she probably didn’t buy the car or the phone with her own money. And that is the number one excuse parents always use to take things away from their children. It is also the only excuse that applies unfairly and exclusively to children: if you give someone else–anyone else–a gift, you can not demand it back as soon as they’ve ceased to please you.

This isn’t just legally true, it is also true by social expectations and conventions. Unless you are a child, in which case you have no right to property. Think for a moment about how truly atrocious that is: there is nothing that belongs to you. In a moment anything can be taken away; it is enough to strip a child of not only their sense of security but to an extent of defining their identity.

The parents might cut off the insurance for the car, or stop paying for the monthly phone bill, but they cannot take away the car or phone itself or her direct access to these things. These were gifts from the parents to their daughter, which means that now they are HERS. They are now her property.

What she sued for was to secure access to what was already hers.

This post isn’t just about a woman’s right to choose, or about the incredible violation her parents have committed by denying her that choice, but about child rights. This girl is legally still a child, and thanks to anti-choicers’ (and some pro-choicers) insistence that minors have to notify their parents about medical decisions concerning pregnancies, she is subjected to the tyranny of her parents as intermediaries to her right to bodily autonomy.

Her decision to marry her boyfriend is a bad one–I genuinely believe this. I sense that her parents won’t be much financial support to her, so she will have to work instead of going to school–another really bad decision. These decisions are still, however, hers. The right way to handle the situation would have been to sit her down and have a long talk about all potential outcomes so that she would make an informed decision, and, if she really is determined to carry the pregnancy to term, the healthiest thing to do is offer enough support that she may recover from any mistakes while still taking full responsibility for them.

11 thoughts on “Girl Sues Her Parents for the Right to Carry a Pregnancy to Term

  1. I see your point, and it is true that if they are taking things that belong to her there is a problem. If it were something like clothing or jewelry I would completely agree, but due to the nature of a phone or car, bills and insurance are probably under their name, and I’ve never seen it explicitly stated anywhere that these are under her name; they technically probably still belong to her parents, so I see them as privileges, not gifts. And I know when I acted in a way my parents did not like my privileges were removed.
    I am 100% pro-choice, so even though I personally feel her choice is a bad one, I will completely defend her right to go through with said choice. I think it is horrendous that her parents tried to remove her choice, and therefore her bodily autonomy. But I disagree with the parents being made to pay her phone bills and for the car (which articles have stated they are).
    I think it’s a tricky situation that way, but you were right- these things should be put under HER name and henceforth SHE can pay for them. Very good points!

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    1. Yes, I wrote this assuming the car was in her name. If it is, it’s hers and they can’t take it, any more than they could take clothes or jewelry or furniture or computers. Even if the car isn’t paid off, if the agreement was that they would purchase it for her entirely, then the entire gift was a paid-off car.

      All they can cut off is insurance/gas/etc whatever else isn’t in her name.

      And yes, if they are being forced to pay her phone bills, that’s wrong and they shouldn’t have to. But they can’t take away the phone itself–it’s already hers.

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  2. Leo

    My first instinct here, as a teenager, is to say something along the lines of ‘I love you,’ but that would be creepy, and all.

    On medical rights — the thing I’ve found painfully hilarious is that adults’ interests in teen medical rights start and *end* in abortion. As a female-bodied person, I’m glad that there are feminists out there who want to ensure I can get an abortion without parental consent — but I’d also like to have the right to consent to or refuse mental health treatment*, get vaccines my mother believes are dangerous, access hormone replacement therapy… you get the picture. Abortion’s already on the board, so to speak, so people feel comfortable bringing it up, but for every teen who needs an abortion and can’t get parental consent there’s at least one more who can’t get parental consent for a vaccine, medication, or surgical procedure. There aren’t political battles over those, though.

    I’m glad she won her case. I agree with you that she’s probably not making the best choice — and that it doesn’t matter. The thing people miss about rights, particularly youth rights, is that no matter how stupid what someone does with them may seem to you, they still can’t be taken away because you think they’re going to hurt themselves. That’s why they’re rights. *sighs*

    One more thing on the subject of youth rights: while I’d like property rights, I’d like protection from teachers much, much more. I have a friend who’s been man-handled by his gym teacher to the point he has panic attacks before class, but his grades are bad, so no one will listen tohim — it’s funny how scholastic achievement becomes the means by which you are protected (or not) from random abuse by professionals. I’d really like to just be able to walk out of my Spanish class while my teacher is telling us that we’ve renounced our rights to be treated like adults by talking so much (I wish I was joking about that phrasing) and she’s trying to believe we’re good kids despite the evidence — but if I did I’d risk arrest. Just objecting to a statement can end in detention or suspension due to discretionary discipline policies — and enough of those lands you in front of the court, too. This is obviously all ridiculous — but it’s not leaving marks and people have worse problems out there, so who cares? (I almost wish they’d just hit us. And preferably leave a few bruises for evidence.)

    *Technically I have this in my state, but transportation and monetary resources, the fact that parents have no oversight in punishment, and threats by the mental health system (“If you walk out of this room I’ll call the cops and they’ll cuff you and take you to Western Psych”) mean that in practice the rights are nonexistent.

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    1. interests in teen medical rights start and *end* in abortion. As a female-bodied person, I’m glad that there are feminists out there who want to ensure I can get an abortion without parental consent — but I’d also like to have the right to consent to or refuse mental health treatment*, get vaccines my mother believes are dangerous, access hormone replacement therapy…

      Absolutely.

      That is terrible about your friend! There’s no way he can get them to believe him? Aren’t there student witnesses who can also report the gym instructor, or does no one else care enough to affirm that this is what’s happening? I’d try to take an out day (signified by not changing) and videotape that happening as evidence, but I don’t now how gym routines work at your school/how easy this would be to do.

      Just objecting to a statement can end in detention or suspension due to discretionary discipline policies

      This is beyond ridiculous. I had a biology instructor in high school (and I loved her despite this) who openly stated in regards to testing products on animals that animals exist for us to experiment on them, that they’re here for us to use them. The entire class exchanged glances; no one was allowed to say anything because it was high school, not college.

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      1. Leo

        Unfortunately, the problem is mostly that people just don’t care, yeah — the general attitude is that we’ve probably misjudged the adult in question and are overreacting, because it happens so often people don’t notice at all. If the gym teacher’s grabbing my friend by the shoulders and shoving him around, it doesn’t register in an environment where I can yell “don’t touch me!” upon a teacher grabbing me and promptly get embarrassed looks from students and a lecture from the teacher. Even things that are *technically* illegal and might even get attention from the school board are difficult to stop, because we need parental support to be taken seriously and most parents either don’t think it’s a problem or *do* and can’t imagine that the place they send their kids every weekday nine months year for twelve to fourteen years is really that bad. Then they’d have to come up with an alternative and cope with the idea that they participated in that damage.

        Not that all adults are like that — there are adults who advocate home schooling or bring lawsuits against abusive schools or go in to yell at teachers. But, well, going against society is *hard,* especially when you’re overworked and tired yourself and being told that all teenagers lie and manipulate to cover misbehavior. I think the fact that in some societies adolescence isn’t a time of turmoil is very telling regarding our own practices, as is the fact that animals have at least equal rights to children and teens. (An underfed animal, one who acts terrified of people, or one who has physical damage equivalent to bruises, can be taken away if someone notices, even if it may not happen. A child who is underfed in a financially comfortable family, who flinches at sudden movements, or who has bruises is likely going to be left with parents, or will be taken away for a few months or a year and then returned because the parent promises they’re better this time, really, and seems more stable. I had a friend at my last school who had shown the guidance counselor bruises and was still living with her mother and the stepfather who’d hit her. She hasn’t killed herself yet, but her therapy will be discontinued soon because of financial issues — her parents apparently haven’t applied for the insurance in my state that pays for all medical expenses for any child with a diagnosis. For some reason.)

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    1. She probably needed it to get to work; it’s practically impossible to function without a car in the US. You could take public transportation but hours are wasted (that you could spend working.)

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  3. On the car issue. If they forced her to get two jobs after they found out she was pregnant which was after she had already had access to the car, I don’t think the argument can be made that she needed it for her burgeoning autonomy which included working, having a boyfriend and choosing to have sex, protected or otherwise. It seems she was reliant on her parents. Does that give them the right to bar her from access to the car et. el.? The court says no.

    I think, as a parent that, I have the right to retract privileges, as long as they are so declared. What would I do if Heaven forbid, my daughter became pregnant while in High School? I would be sad and disappointed. Would I disown or threaten her? No I would look out for the grandchild to be and help both of them to get into a good healthy place. I think they would have a loving home with me and my wife if the male involved was a loser. If she wanted to marry the boyfriend, I’m not sure I would object. There was a time when people married young and could be happy together. It is working out for me so far.

    I’m a bit surprised by the undercurrent of “she is making the wrong choice” in some of the comments here. Why is not going to college the wrong choice? Why is marrying the 16 year old guy she loves the wrong choice? Will it be bad is she stays home and nurses the baby and cares for it while her husband drops out and gets a job and works hard to support the family they have created. Isn’t that being responsible for one’s actions?

    I don’t like abortion. I know abstinence is good. I think her parents probably “doomed her” to this crossroad in life by giving her a car and phone and then detaching from and NOT parenting her so their lives would be easier. Convenience is a killer.

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  4. The point is that gifts are not privileges, and–

    Why is not going to college the wrong choice?

    I’ll give you 20 bucks if you can find a single comment here so far that says not going to college is the wrong choice. She’s SIXTEEN. We were all referring to high school.

    Whether you “like” abortion is irrelevant.

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  5. unkamenwriter

    I concede the point of gifts. You are absolutely correct on that.

    I suppose I read into the comments that if she did get an abortion she would be able to continue her education…. which would be finishing high school and going on to college. Most people value getting a degree so highly that I just assumed that you do too. I think the following gave me that impression.

    “she will have to work instead of going to school–another really bad decision”

    I undervalue education. I think we need more vocational training and if they were to marry and he were to work she wouldn’t “need” a diploma. My wife and I both regret not getting married sooner and feel that we both wasted time in college.

    Regarding the relevance of liking abortion, I was simply clarifying my framework. It’s legal and it isn’t going anywhere soon. “We” will all have to deal with it.

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    1. Most people value getting a degree so highly that I just assumed that you do too.

      Of course I highly value getting a degree. (I suppose that’s not an “of course” to you since you don’t know me, but as you’ve already assumed, we’ll let it be.) I do not, however, think it’s “better.” You would be incorrect in that implied assumption.

      I do, for the mere sake of survival, believe this girl ought to get a high school diploma. And yes, that means I maintain it is a bad decision if she drops out of school to work.

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