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Protecting Minors Who Are Being Forced to Abort

January 2011
By: Anne O'Connor

More and more pregnancy care centers are dealing with situations where a pregnant minor does not want to have an abortion, but her parents are pressuring her to get one. Many daughters feel coerced against their will by their parents to choose abortion. PCCs need to support the minor in her decision to choose life and do all they can to protect this choice.

A minor female has a constitutional right to make reproductive choices under Roe v. Wade and subsequent U.S. Supreme Court decisions. See Bellotti v. Baird 443 U.S. 622 (1979). While the Roe decision is usually referenced as giving a woman a right to choose abortion, it also means that a minor has a constitutional right to choose life and carry the pregnancy to term. This decision is hers alone. No one, not even her parents, can force her to abort. Her decision to obtain an abortion must be free, independent, voluntary, and non-coerced. Likewise, her decision to choose life must be free from coercive and pressurized tactics from others who are demanding that she choose abortion.

A parent who tries to coerce a daughter to have an abortion could be subject to a multitude of legal charges. Criminal charges could be pressed against the parents in the 37 states that have fetal homicide laws. Criminal prosecution for child abuse could also occur. Parents and abortionists could be civilly liable for battery, negligence, false imprisonment, or other claims.

The PCC's duty to a client/patient who is being coerced to abort is to educate her and her parents on her rights and do everything within legal ability to protect her. Tools that NIFLA encourages PCCs to use include forms created by The Justice Foundation's Center Against Forced Abortion

A MINOR HAS A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT
TO CHOOSE LIFE 
AND CARRY HER PREGNANCY TO TERM 

The Justice Foundation has created a Parent Letter, which delicately but firmly informs the teen's parents that they could be guilty of illegal actions if they force the abortion. There is also a Client Letter that advises the client/patient of her constitutional rights and a Notice to Abortion Clinics prepared by Life Dynamics, which can help protect the minor from this coercion. See the sample Policy and Procedure below to assist in dealing with these types of situations.

It is important to handle these situations with delicacy but also as a strong advocate for the client/patient. You should document all actions taken on behalf of the client so that your record is complete. Train your staff to be prepared to handle these types of situations. Even before a situation like this arises, recruit attorneys in your area who will assist you so that you will be prepared. Attorneys allied with the Alliance Defending Freedom can be found in most states by calling 1-800-835-5233.

Sample policy wording
Helping minors who are being coerced to abort: The Pregnancy Care Center/Clinic shall support and protect a client's right not to be coerced to have an abortion.

Sample procedure wording
All client advocates shall be trained according to this policy and be able to identify clients/patients who are at risk of being coerced to abort by parents, guardians, boyfriends, spouses, etc. The advocate shall educate the client on her constitutional rights and give her a copy of the Client Letter prepared by the Justice Foundation. The advocate will explore the situation with the client and determine if there are other adults involved who are supportive of the client/patient and can help. The advocate will make sure to collect all contact information from the client in order to be able to do follow-up.

The advocate shall also review the Parent Letter from the Justice Foundation with the client and determine with the client the best way to deliver said letter to the parents. This might include contacting the parents by telephone or visiting the parents with the client, whatever the case may be.

The advocate shall immediately report the situation to the Client Services Director who shall contact an attorney to assist them. If a local attorney is not identified, contact shall be made with the Justice Foundation, NIFLA, and ADF for assistance. A determination shall also be made whether the situation needs to be reported to child protective services.

If an abortion is scheduled or will be scheduled against the client's will, the advocate shall review the Notice prepared by Life Dynamics with the client and, if she desires, complete it with the client/patient and deliver it via facsimile or other timely manner to the abortion clinic(s) to alert them that this abortion is being coerced.

The center shall do everything necessary, within legal limits of the law, to protect the client's constitutional right to choose life and carry her baby to term.

Anne O'Connor is General Counsel for National Institute of Family and Life Advocates (NIFLA). She has been involved with promoting the civil rights of the unborn since 1987. For more information, go to www.nifla.org.



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