Sarah* walked into the living room, hands trembling. Her father sat on the couch, watching a football game, while her mom cooked dinner in the kitchen. Sarah took a deep breath, and in a shaky voice said: "Mom, Dad? We need to talk."
Her mom dried her hands and sauntered into the living room, where her dad had looked up from the TV. "What's going on?" Her mom asked. Sarah glanced at the concerned looks on their faces and could not believe she would have to utter the following words.
"I'm pregnant," she blurted out.
Silence filled the room. Sarah felt time stop, as every nerve stood on end, unsure what would come next. After what felt like an hour, her mother stepped forward, shaking her head.
"No, no, no, no, no," her mother said firmly. "This can't happen, you're only 16. We've done so much to bring you this far, you can't be pregnant. You have to get rid of it."
"But..." Sarah started.
"I don't want to hear another word out of you, young lady. I'm bringing you to the abortion clinic tomorrow, you've done enough to hurt this family." All the while her dad sat silent, staring at the wall behind her.
But can Sarah's parents force her into getting an abortion? What if the pressure was coming from the father of Sarah's baby? Could he force her to have an abortion? Who has the power to tell Sarah what to do with her pregnancy?
The answer: Only Sarah can make that decision. Her parents can't. Her boyfriend can't. Only Sarah can.
According to U.S. law, a minor has a constitutional right to carry her baby to term, regardless of outside pressures such as parents, boyfriends, or friends. In the 1979 Supreme Court ruling Bellotti v. Baird the court ruled that the minor must make her own decision about what to do with her pregnancy, and that decision must be free, independent, voluntary, and non-coerced.
A parent who forces his or her daughter to have an abortion in California can be subjected to criminal charges under fetal homicide laws. If coercion, force, or undue pressure is exerted, parents can also be prosecuted for child abuse, battery, negligence, or false imprisonment. Furthermore, parents cannot kick their minor children out of the home if they decide to keep their babies. While Sarah's parents are not required to support Sarah's child, the state requires that they do continue to take care of Sarah.
If you are in a situation like Sarah's, there is help for you. You can come in to Open Arms Pregnancy Clinic for a free counseling session with our trained case managers, and we can provide you with a complete explanation of your rights. Open Arms also has referrals to social services, maternity homes, and other organizations to help with your pregnancy if you do not have the support of your parents. We also provide free pregnancy testing and free ultrasounds.
If you wish to educate your parents on your rights, print out this letter from the Justice Foundation.