A hypocritical oath

The Texas Center for Defense of Life says its mission is to “aggressively defend the sanctity of human life in Texas and federal courts from conception through natural death.”

Photo by Jinyi Qi.
Photo by Jinyi Qi.

The Texas Center for Defense of Life says its mission is to “aggressively defend the sanctity of human life in Texas and federal courts from conception through natural death.”

But just this week, Stephen Casey, lawyer and founder of the center, used Roe v. Wade to argue in support of one of his clients.

This all began when a 16-year-old high school junior discovered she was pregnant. She and her boyfriend, also 16 and a sophomore in high school, decided they wanted to get married and keep the baby.

Her parents didn’t think this was the best decision and urged her to have an abortion. She refused; in response, her parents took away her car and cell phone privileges. The boyfriend’s mother, a former teenage parent, contacted the TCDL. With the organization’s support, the girl sued her parents, claiming they were forcing her to obtain an abortion. Her parents deny this claim.

An injunction was granted for the span of the pregnancy. The girl’s parents have been ordered to pay all medical bills, allow her to use the car and return her cell phone. Their daughter married her boyfriend.

Every woman has the right to decide when (or when not) to have a child. Just as no one should be coerced into continuing a pregnancy she doesn’t want, so should no one be forced into terminating her pregnancy.

When I first saw that a teenager was successfully asserting her right to control her own body in a state with a history of attempting to prevent women from making their own reproductive health care decisions, my gut reaction was to celebrate.

But there’s something really off about this lawsuit.

First, there’s no real evidence that this girl’s parents actually tried to coerce her into doing anything. They tried to give their daughter a clear idea of the obligations she might face should she choose to marry and have a child. Contrary to what some 16-year-olds might believe, no one is entitled to a car or a cell phone paid for by his or her parents.

Choosing to marry and have a child is a valid choice, as valid as other options such as abortion or adoption. However, if you assume adult responsibilities, you shouldn’t expect your parents to foot the entire bill if they don’t want to. Suing, in this case, hardly speaks to the girl’s maturity.

Don’t get me wrong: Absolutely, she should be allowed to choose for herself. But her parents shouldn’t have to financially support her choice if they don’t want to.

Second, the message this lawsuit sends is disconcerting. Yes, it’s illegal in Texas to try to force anyone to have an abortion, but it’s not explicitly illegal to try to force anyone to keep a pregnancy—interesting, considering Texas has parental notification laws on the books.

While this teen is backed by an anti-abortion organization with its own agenda, teenagers who find themselves pregnant and decide they want to have an abortion actually need to obtain parental permission. Even in cases of rape or incest, the process of obtaining a judicial bypass is arduous and neither logistically nor financially feasible for many teenagers.

Still, the Texas center used a 16-year-old girl to create media hype around the false impression that women and teenage girls are being forced to have abortions. On the other hand, there’s been considerable legislation that physically prevents women from obtaining abortions, effectively forcing them to give birth against
their will.

If nothing else, this case exposes the hypocrisy behind the anti-choice movement. Casey has said things like: “Parents think they’re making a decision for their daughters like pulling a tooth or getting their tonsils out…But now that the girl is pregnant, the parents become grandparents and they can’t make a decision for the girl about her unborn child.”

I hope he stops and thinks about the message he’s sending, because as much as I disagree with his language, his fundamental point is right on the mark: Parents, the state, legislators and pretty much anyone else should have no part in a woman’s choice about a pregnancy—it’s the woman’s decision. 

“Roe v. Wade goes both ways, and choice goes both ways,” Greg Terra, president of the center, told the media. Maybe it’s time the TCDL took a step back from preventing safe-sex education, from preventing funding for organizations like Planned Parenthood, and from blocking women from choosing abortion. It needs to consider how this statement pertains to all women, no matter what choice they make.